If you own a small business, networking should be a key component of your overall marketing strategy. Networking is the best way to build relationships with people in your community on a personal level. It’s the only way to convey who you are in real life; something that will earn a tremendous amount of trust, confidence and credibility if done properly.
Networking Should be a Purpose Driven Activity
Networking can be very intimidating for some business owners. It requires being able to walk into rooms full of people you don’t know and feel comfort approaching these folks with a welcoming smile and an engaging hand shake. It also takes time and some money to participate in the myriad of events, socials, grand-openings, workshops, presentations and lunches that are available each week to business owners who are already working long hours just to run the businesses they have.
It Can be Quite Rewarding, If You Can get Over the Fear
Whether you are a networking maven, someone who doesn’t think it will generate business or someone who is terrified of the prospect of going to these functions, it’s important to recognize that marketing strategies have shifted from traditional media and relentless advertising to more social interaction. For the majority of businesses trying to create a brand or a market presence, social interaction is the fastest way to get the word out about ‘who’ you are and ‘what’ you do.
How’s Your ROI on This Marketing Approach?
As a business strategist and advisor, the most common complaint I hear about networking is the low payout for the time and money invested. Make no mistake, networking can be a time-consuming endeavor and if not approached with a plan, can be reduced to eating too much fatty food and having coffee with people you’ll never see again. So how do you make the most from your networking efforts?
If you’ve had hit-and-miss results with networking, here are some tips you can use to get better results from your networking efforts:
1. Decide what you want from networking:
Expectations play a huge role in the results you get from working the room. Decide whether you are looking for customers or wanting to make connections with potential referral partners. Referral partners are business owners who focus on similar customer targets. If you are looking for customers, don’t be surprised at how quickly people want to move on from talking to you. Networking is about building relationships that lead to business. People who aggressively sell at networking events usually are disappointed in the end.
2. Determine who your Most Valued Customer is:
If you want to find people in the medical field, attending an event that focuses on IT businesses may not be the best use of your time. Some networking events will be more general in nature than others but all will have a particular demographic component that can determine whether or not you are likely to find the people you want. If your target market is photographers and you attend a convention for wedding planners, you may get introduced to exactly who you are looking for.
3. Consider team networking:
If you are uncomfortable at the prospect of going to a large mixer or evening event alone, ask some one to attend with you. Going as a team of 2 to 4 people can be a lot of fun and very productive. For maximum results, each person should have a related business. This way, if they run into someone who is not a match for them, it might be a match for you. Team networking needs to have rules in order to work well. Decide how you are going to work the room, where you will sit, how many people you will meet and what times you will get together during and after the event to trade notes. The downside to this strategy is having all 4 people sit at the same table or stand in the same place throughout the event keeping each other company.
4. Take the initiative to meet people:
You can take control of the interaction by initiating the contact. The most effective way to meet someone is to extend a hand, have a smile on your face, give them your name and ask them something about the event: “have you been at this mixer before?”; “how did you find out about this event”? or “what kind of business are you in”? In my business coaching practice, we have a saying; “if you want to be interesting, first be interested”. Most people love to be asked about themselves and while they are talking, you can be listening for what they want and determining if there is any potential in a lengthier conversation.
5. Know what you plan to say before you stand up!
When it’s your turn to speak (either on a one-to-one basis or as an introduction in the form of a 30 second commercial), don’t blow the opportunity to make a great impression by babbling on incoherently. The key is to engage people with a short, clear, well focused introduction of you. Always lead with a problem that your customers have and then follow with the benefit you offer to solve their problem. As an example, a commercial cleaning company owner might say; “have you ever walked into a restroom in a business office and found the facility to be dirty? Well, I make sure that experience never happens to the customers of my clients”. If the response from the other person is “wow, tell me more”, you know you have a potential customer or referral partner. If the response is “oh, that’s nice”, you know you don’t so don’t waste too much time talking to them.
6. Don’t try to ‘close’ people right after you meet them:
The most annoying thing that goes on in networking events is people practicing their hard closing techniques on you. You know the type; they can’t wait to present their brochure to you and discuss payment options! Networking is all about making connections that you can build on. Instead of trying to sell them something on the first encounter, offer to send them something that they might find useful. In the spirit of giving before you get something, offer to introduce them to someone you met who might be a good contact for them. This usually gets great accolades from your contact and leaves them with a feeling of needing to repay you in kind. It’s also a great tactic to use if the person you are talking is someone you’d like to get away from.
7. The most important step is follow-up:
Lack of good timely follow-up is the single biggest reason why initial connections don’t go anywhere. If the person you meet looks like someone you should develop a relationship with, make the effort to follow up with them. Set a date for a personal meeting. Send them what you told them you would send them. Or just send them a ‘thank you’ card and ask them if you can stay in touch with them or if they can give you a referral.
If you want to experience the kind of small business growth that an effective networking strategy can provide, decide how you’re going to utilize your time to meet the people you want to meet. Don’t try to meet everyone in the room but do set a goal for a reasonable number of quality contacts that you can build on.
Why bother networking? Because it works if you do it right!
Originally posted 2015-08-07 04:57:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter