In my business, I speak to many financial advisor groups. One year, I asked just about every one of my advisor audiences if they felt networking worked for them. A measly 1 percent said they thought networking had worked for them. Wow.

And yet, at the same time, networking is the #1 strategy recommended to those just starting out in the industry. So, is this good advice or a total waste of time? Why do people recommend networking anyway? It’s easy to tell someone else to do something you think should work. But the question you need to answer is if and how networking works for you. Is there a secret to networking?

Networking, according to those who do it successfully — meaning they have gained significant new business from the activity of networking — is not about collecting and giving out business cards. It is not about finding people who may be good prospects for your firm.

Successful networking is about finding and cultivating potential advocates, people who will help you reach your goals. Don’t try to find your next hot prospect. If you go about networking with an eye toward finding prospects, you will call them, try to sell them something and turn them off — guaranteed.

But if you go about networking with an eye toward finding and cultivating advocates, you will achieve a totally different result. An advocate is someone who is already well connected and may or may not ever become your client.

An advocate may be in human resources. She may be the president of the Chamber of Commerce or the head of a non-profit or a committee at your church. She is already a great networker and connector. And, to the right sales professional, she is literally worth millions. A single advocate can bring you 10 clients, while one potential prospect at a networking event will often result in one frustrating experience and zero new sales.

So who do know who might become an advocate for you? He might not be your best client, but rather the client with the highest propensity to introduce you to others in your target market. Think about who is well connected in your community, in your industry, in the media and in your target market. Think outside the box. Who is in a position to introduce you to potential clients?

Make a list of 20 potential advocates. Then, check them out on LinkedIn and decide how you will reach out to them — not to sell them something but simply to get to know them. Just connect. Give them a chance to get to know you. It takes a bit of patience and it most likely will not bring immediate gratification. But if you can find someone to act as your advocate, your efforts will be repaid many times over.

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Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. For more information, go to www.redzonemarketing.com.