Many popular blogs and articles focus on acquiring new customers and establishing new contacts and we have also seen the emergence of a whole new generation of lead generation companies. We sometimes forget that maximising your existing contact base can be the key to success; why spend more money on finding new customers when you may be sitting on an unrealised, steady stream of revenue which could be accessed with minimal marketing costs?

So how do you make sure you are making the most of your network?

1. Use online tools and stay on people’s radar

Many small businesses start with the owner as the only employee, making it very easy to become isolated. The best way to avoid this is through online tools, such as LinkedIn. Gone are the days when LinkedIn was used predominantly by recruiters or people looking for a job. It is the ideal forum to manage your existing network, while also making new connections. While maintaining a LinkedIn profile is not as time intensive as other networking sites, spending a few minutes every couple of days to update your status or share articles you find interesting are great ways to remain visible and interesting to other people in your network. Raising questions or starting debates can also be a good way to engage with your LinkedIn network.

2.  Networking is a two-way street

In order to fully maximise your network, get to know your contacts; understand their expertise and how they could help you and, crucially, how you could help them too. Networking is a two-way street. Don’t be too precious with your advice; a great way to broaden your network is to offer your opinion and insight for free, or respond to people’s questions.

 3.  Stay visible and valuable

Aim to be at the forefront of people’s minds. Show that you are interested in them and what they do. Remaining in regular contact is key. After a first meeting, don’t be afraid to follow up; drop them an email or give them a call. Many agencies I know have hired contractors and freelancers on the back of them putting in that little bit of extra effort and showing that they really do want the job and are proactive in their approach.

4.  Be active and organised

Business networking is a project and needs managing. You could have hundreds of fantastic contacts, but if you don’t know what they do or how they could be of benefit to you then they are effectively useless. Researching your existing customers is vital. Many people have what you could call a ‘passive’ or ‘dead’ business network; they may have the contact details of many people, but do not actually use this information to their advantage. One tip is to organise your contacts into specific categories, it could be by profession or location, making it easier to make connections and form links.

 5.  Don’t try and know and ‘be known’ by everyone

Being part of a network takes time and energy; you can’t be everywhere and know everyone. Utilise those contacts you already have and don’t try and spread yourself too thinly. Engage in a meaningful and personalised way with your contacts and people in your network.

Learning how to get the best out of different people and different personalities is an invaluable skill. Follow the link to the Hiscox ‘Personality Calculator’ to learn more about both your clients’ and your own personality traits.