Why is it that some people seem to get a lot of results from business networking, while others seem to just waste their time?
The following article will let you in on the secrets of effective networking.
Business networking functions are great opportunities to build and expand a personal network of business contacts. A good and extensive business network is very good for business if you approach it with the right preparation and look after the network. Sadly, many of us do not bother to do this and so we end up wasting our time, money and energy at these events.
I have been networking for many years and built up a substantial network of contacts, that I can pull on if I need to. But in order for a business network to deliver value and not to sink into a stale notwork there are a number of rules you need to play by, and I would like to share these with you.
Before the event:
Constantly be on the lookout for networking events. You will recognise them because they often are referred to as networking events. Service Clubs, Business Organisations and many Chambers of Commerce regularly arrange opportunities for members and interested parties to get together. These are the obvious events that you should make a plan to attend. But there are other, more subtle networking opportunities. These are often called things like Local policing forum, Parents meeting at the school, Volunteer group at the church, Golf day and so on. In fact every time a number of people gather, you have an opportunity to expand your network. So make sure you attend these events.
Always carry business cards with you and make sure that these are in good order. I have attended many a business networking event where several attendees did not have business cards with them. Thats a bit like going to work without your pants on. What is the first impression a potential business contact will get if you are unprepared in this way? Not a good foundation for a professional relationship
Make sure that you bring advertising material with you to the networking event, and that everyone who attends has a chance to receive a copy. Design the advertising material in such a way that it will add value to the person it is given to, rather than just a faceless pamphlet that only tries to sell your product.
Next step is to do something really weird: PLAN AHEAD. Decide how many new contacts you want to make at the meeting. It is tempting not to do this, but it is very powerful to have a specific number of people in mind. This allows you to focus on the goal you have for the meeting, and you are much more likely to walk away from the meeting with some great results.
Practice your elevator pitch beforehand. If you do not have an elevator pitch you better develop one as soon as possible. This is the brief presentation that will tell your potential new contact why they should listen to you and what is the value you can add.
Lastly in your preparation for the networking meeting, make sure that you have online support for your business and that your online presence is up to date. You will want to invite people to visit your website or connect with you on one (or several) of the popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Your goal is to make it attractive for people you meet to look for more information, and you need to have the tools ready.
During the event:
Make sure that you arrange your schedule in such a way that you can arrive early at the meeting and leave late. The value of the event is not during whatever presentations take place, although that may also be relevant. But remember, you came to network and meet a certain number of new people. This cannot happen if you do not set the necessary time aside.
Before the meeting starts, behave like the host of the event. Make sure that people arriving are greeted and made to feel welcome, help them find seats, introduce them to others and generally look after them. In their eyes you become someone important who can be depended on, and somebody who is clearly worth knowing. This will subconsciously translate into their view of your business as well.
Make sure that you make an impression at the meeting. Your presentation should be memorable and stand out, and so should you. This requires preparation and is an important aspect for your success. No one will remember the anonymous person who spoke very softly, if at all, and sat quietly in the corner. For the more introverted person this may be difficult, but can be mastered with practice.
Before the event you set yourself a goal for how many people you would like to meet at the event. Keep this goal fixed in your mind and avoid spending the whole evening chatting to just one person. If you meet someone at the meeting that you really hit it off with, make arrangements to meet with them at some other time over a cup of coffee, and then move on to someone else. Make sure you get contact details for each person you meet so you can be in touch with them later.
One of the most important things to remember at the networking event is to avoid selling! You are not there to sell your product you are there to meet new people and build relationships. It is not easy to warm up to a pushy salesperson, and all of your good intentions will come to nothing. Rather focus on adding value to the people you meet and demonstrate this by showing a genuine interest in them and their situation.
A final point to keep in mind at the event is to avoid sitting with your business friends at the meeting. Also, do not hang with your friends before and after the meeting. Remember that you are there to meet new contacts not have a social with your friends. If you are feeling nervous about speaking to a stranger at the meeting, use this as an icebreaker by simply saying to the person: I am a bit nervous about how to approach this networking. How do you do it? Before you know it you have new contact. Everyone at the event is there to meet new people, so the playing field is level and wide open.
After the event:
It is pointless to collect contact details of people you meet if you do not have a system in place to stay in touch with them afterwards. Define a system for keeping track of who they are and what you want to communicate to them on an ongoing basis. Then make sure that you follow your system.
Look out for things that can add value to your new contacts and pass this information onto them. For example, if you are a plumber, send out information to your new contacts about simple plumbing tips that they can implement themselves. Keep looking after your new contacts and if possible even look for business referrals for them.
If you follow the steps I have outlined in this article your networking results will improve drastically and you will enjoy networking events much more. To make it easier for you I have developed a networking checklist that you can download here. When you are at your next networking meeting you now have the power to change your experience into a rewarding and fruitful marketing event, rather than the usual notworking experience most business people are used to
Still not sure how to implement effective networking practices? You are most welcome to contact me for a chat about how networking can work for YOU.
- Peter Bolgann
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