Networking is an important component of any business-development program. But are your efforts in that area worthwhile?

To ensure your networking activities are having a positive effect on your business development and revenue, you must have a networking strategy, says Allison Graham, London, Ont.-based author of From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding and Profitable Networking Made Easy.

In her book, Graham describes a “focus board,” a concept she created to help her clients achieve their networking goals. A focus board consists of four criteria that should be applied to any networking activity to determine whether that pursuit is beneficial to your business.

“When you’re going to take the time and money to be in a room,” Graham says, “you want to be sure that it’s worth your time and it’s going to put you in a position to win.”

A networking activity is more likely to be successful when all four categories apply, Graham says. If even one element is missing, she adds, you must then evaluate why you would attend.

“If you’re choosing to go just because you want to go, [that’s not a] problem,” Graham says. “But don’t be surprised when you don’t get new leads out of the opportunity.”

Here are the four points to consider when deciding whether to attend a networking activity:

1. Objectives
Ask yourself how you want to grow your business. Maybe you have just started your financial advisory practice and are looking to gain clients. Or you may be happy with your established client base but would like to increase the depth of your services.

List your objectives and pick the four most important ones, Graham says. Then, prioritize those four objectives and look for events that correspond with them.

So, if your top priority is to increase your offering to clients, concentrate on events at which you will meet potential centres of influence who can help by providing those services.

2. Target audience
Have a clear idea of who your best prospects are and concentrate your energy on activities that lead you to that audience.

For example, although your market consists of business owners, you have received an invitation to an elite event for high-level corporate executives. You might be tempted to attend such a posh gathering, but you should not expect to meet prospects who fit your preferred-client profile there.

3. Interests
Be honest about whether you will enjoy the networking event in question, Graham says.

The endeavour will be an unproductive use of time if you spend more energy concentrating on faking your interest than meeting prospects.

4. Resources
The two main assets to consider are your time and your money. Ask yourself if the activity is worth both of those resources. Consider whether the activity will produce results that can justify the time away from the office, your family or other responsibilities.

For example, you discover that many of your top clients enjoy skiing. You invite those clients and a few of their friends for a weekend at an exclusive ski resort. That event might be worthwhile the first time, but if you are looking to make new acquaintances, repeating that outing with the same guest list might be difficult to justify.