Networking ranks as one of the easiest, most cost effective marketing tactics yet it’s one many business owners (and professionals) avoid like the plague. Roadblocks such as not seeing the value, not having time, and not knowing where to start prevent businesses from benefiting from this simple yet valuable marketing building block.
Overcoming the barriers to networking and learning a few tips turns this perceived drudgery into a lead generation tactic that truly results in sales.
SUCCEEDING IN BUSINESS IS ALL
ABOUT MAKING CONNECTIONS
– Richard Branson
“There must be a good reason behind all this networking stuff”. The value of networking often gets underestimated, yet those who rock it get great rewards.
Here’s why it’s worth it.
Build visibility organically – there’s no better way for you to build relationships and your brand than a firm handshake and friendly smile.
Build your network – leverage the contacts and customers others have in your networking circles.
Expand your knowledge – learn from other business owners/professionals, especially about local business issues and events you won’t read about in the local paper.
Where should I start?
IT’S NOT WHO YOU KNOW,
IT’S WHO KNOWS YOU.
Finding the appropriate opportunities in your community is key. Being specific about who you do and don’t want to connect with allows you to sort through the many options for the ones that will yield the best results for you.
Here are some suggested opportunities for putting your best foot forward.
Local Chamber of Commerce – regular meetings allows you to connect often and build better relationships; most have educational events and special events like mini trade shows that allow you to build exposure.
Local Rotary – provides you the opportunity to network and contribute to local charities through programs, events and activities. Build your brand while you give back.
Organized networking groups – typically these groups meet weekly either early in the day or lunch time. From chapters of national networking organizations to home-grown groups, you’ll likely find several to choose from. Most allow you to visit once or twice so you can see if the group is right for you, and they traditionally only allow one member from each industry/business type in the group so there’s no competition. The focus of these groups is lead-generation and an emphasis on growing members’ businesses.
Engage with your house of worship – the common bond of spirit makes creating conversation and doing business together easier.
Connect while you workout or play – gyms, golf, tennis and boating clubs have been known for ages to be fantastic places to casually build relationships that can be cultivated for business.
Create your own networking group – reach out to complimentary business owners and form a regular coffee or lunch meeting.
Join a committee or non-profit board – demonstrate your expertise and give-back while helping with an event or enriching an organization’s mission.
Attend local business workshops, educational events, awards ceremonies – expand your industry and local community knowledge while you make connections.
How to make it work?
NETWORKING IS NOT COLLECTING CONTACTS.
NETWORKING IS ABOUT PLANTING RELATIONSHIPS.
Showing up in the first step but how you network defines whether you’re just collecting cards or truly building a network that will you can benefit from.
Here’s how to set behaviors that maximize your networking efforts.
- Always have business cards to hand out (duh, right? But so many people don’t bring them!). If you forget them or run out be sure to get others’ cards and follow-up immediately with email. Flyers with special offers and promotional items can work well also.
- Be able to clearly say what your company does, how it does it better than the competition and what your role is in a clear manner. Don’t assume everyone knows what your company does by its name or what your role is by your title.
- Ask what you can do to help others grow their business/career? They’ll enviably ask you the same, so you both win.
- When asked how they can help be specific about what you need to move forward now, whether it’s suggestion for a potential client, software or tool recommendation that would make your job/company more efficient, or ask about other networking opportunities they might attend.
- Be sure to follow up!
- Send each new contact an email with your contact, Social Media details (LinkedIn, business Facebook, Instagram, etc), a reminder of what you do and what you discussed. Short and sweet.
- Set up a coffee or lunch date with those who have a greater potential to be a connector, partner or client.
- Consider creating an email list of contacts to send brief, regular emails with upcoming events, local business information and your favorite tips. You’ll be providing value plus keeping top of mind.
When will I see the value?
EVERYONE SHOULD BUILD THEIR
NETWORK BEFORE THEY NEED IT.
– Dave Delaney
The true value of your network won’t be entirely clear until you’ve leveraged it for a business-relevant solution. The goal is to build the resource before that opportunity arises. Talk to your peers about their networking efforts, perhaps join them at their next event. Make a plan to expand your networking efforts and you undoubtedly begin to see the value.
Consider that good networking can be one of your lowest cost and, potentially, most successful marketing efforts. You’ll be surprised with who you meet and where business comes from once you’ve established a routine of attending networking events and a system for building relationships with your new contacts.