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Mastering an effective networking system is important when you realize the potential networking has for building trust. When the networking process is done properly, you uncover a prospect’s needs and challenges in a casual environment and you introduce solutions or the possibility for solutions at a later date; you are building the foundation for a healthy adviser/client connection.

Some independent advisers may feel that networking is about exchanging business cards in hope of gaining business. But successful networking is really about establishing a personal connection by genuinely being interested in helping those with whom you are networking. Once you realize this, the law of attraction begins to emerge, and prospects naturally want to become clients, and clients naturally want to become referral sources.

Five Steps to Getting Started
Most advisers want to be more effective with their networking activities, but just do not know how to begin; hence, they try to network with little or no preparation. Networking anywhere and everywhere will attract the wrong types of clients and/or no clients at all.

The following will help you start an effective networking process:

Step 1: Identify your target market
Let’s face it: you can’t hit a target you can’t see. To identify your target market, look for common demographics of your top 40 accounts and think in terms of what you’d like your “A-book” of clients to look like; are they business owners, executives, retirees or pre-retirees?

You must also have a working knowledge of what products and services you provide that can help people in your target market. If you do not know the needs of your target market, how can you offer solutions?

Step 2: Identify the organizations to which your target market belongs
Many of your target market prospects will belong to the same organizations based on similar interests and the benefits of belonging to the organization. Not sure where to start? Simply ask your clients what organizations they are proud to be associated with.

Step 3: Have a genuine interest in the organization
Networking alone is not a strong enough reason to join an organization. If your only motivation is networking, members will see your singular intention, and it could have a negative effect on your networking efforts. You should want to be a member because of what the organization has to offer you, as well as what you have to offer the organization.

Step 4: Become an active member
If you want to genuinely be noticed by your target market, you need to step out of the crowd and take an active role in the organization. Volunteer your time to serve in a leadership capacity or take on a task that needs attention.

Step 5: Become genuinely interested in the members
Being an active member will help, but it will not be enough to ensure new business. Take the next step and really get to know the other members. You’ll create relationships and establish trust as well as credibility.

Keep the Ball Rolling
Fear of rejection, embarrassment or not wanting to seem “needy” have stopped many advisers from pursuing networking as a prospecting strategy. Most of these advisers have a limiting belief system of what networking is and how to do it properly.

Once you have identified your target market and joined the group, you’ve got to keep the networking ball rolling. The following will help you better understand the process:

Know what questions to ask. The best questions you can ask when you’re networking are those that uncover the possible needs and/or challenges for the prospect. Questions should come naturally in a dialogue format and not in an interviewing format.

It’s important to ask questions, because doing so leads to essential information about the prospect’s current situation or problems, implications of those problems and how the prospect may value your services.

Know how to listen for answers. Listening is half the battle! The best answers you can hear to the questions you ask are those that help you present possible solutions. Presenting solutions creates credibility.

Get the “business card commitment.” The “business card commitment” can help the sales process move forward. But don’t just collect business cards. Ask for the prospect’s business card with a clear benefit statement of what you can do to help him or her. An example might be: “I would be happy to run a college cost projection report for your two kids and mail it to you. Do you have a business card?”

Follow Up
Once you begin to prospect by networking, it is important to have a systematic way of following up with the people you meet. Many advisers who give up on networking do so because they acquire business cards or some information about prospects, but do not know the next steps.

The following will help you understand the networking follow-up process:

Record contacts. You have a contact management system, so use it! Input the prospect’s information and include any specifics about the conversation. Also, make a note of what information on products and services you may mail to the prospect.

Mail a follow-up letter. Take some time to compose a thoughtful thank-you letter and mail it with any product/service information that pertains to the prospect’s specific needs.

Make a follow-up call. About a week after mailing the letter, make a follow-up call. Be sure to explain who you are and remind the prospect how you met. Clearly state your reason for the call, and be prepared to offer at least three benefits of having an appointment.

Whether or not you set an appointment, continue to keep the prospect in your marketing efforts with regular contact through mailings, e-mails and phone calls.

Now that you understand the “how to,” it’s time to put your plan into action and get results. One way to do this is to reread this article, map out the specifics of what you will do, take action and track your progress. You may want to have an accountability partner, such as your spouse, a mentor or an adviser colleague to share in this experience, because having an accountability partner can help keep you accountable to mastering an effective networking system.