Networking is probably the most effective and least expensive marketing method you can use to build your business or practice, especially if you do business in your local area.
A lot of business owners and practitioners I talk to say that they don’t like to network or they haven’t found it to be effective. That’s probably because they don’t know how to do it or they may have unrealistic expectations about the timing of results.
I do a lot of networking both online and off. As a natural people person who likes to talk, networking is relatively easy for me. But even if you’re a bit on the shy side or have reservations about the potential for success with networking, you can gain value from this activity if you follow certain guidelines.
Here are some tips that can ensure your networking success.
1. Choose the right venues. Not every group of people will be right for you. Choose groups where people congregate who share your interests and/or are potential clients. Chambers of Commerce, men’s and women’s organizations, networking groups, special interest groups, and associations are all potential choices. Or perhaps a MeetUp.com group in your area will appeal to you.
2. Develop relationships. Networking is not about selling, but rather developing relationships that can lead to sales or referrals. The idea is to get to know people and allow them to get to know you.
Often, people approach networking with the hope of making a sale or getting a client after one visit to an appropriate group. That’s not how it works. People do business with those they know and trust and it can take time to build up that knowledge and trust. So approach a networking event without any expectation of getting new business. Instead go with the idea of meeting new people or schmoozing with those you’ve already gotten to know.
3. Dress appropriately and professionally. Establish yourself as a successful person, which you can do by dressing the part. This does not mean that you need to wear expensive clothes, but do wear something a bit on the dressy side and leave the comfortable baggy pants at home. If necessary, get advice from an image consultant.
4. Be prepared. Bring plenty of business cards, but only give them to people who show a real interest in what you do. Brochures or printed postcards can also be effective. Also, craft a short description of what you do — no more than 10 or 15 seconds.
5. Ask questions and listen. You don’t have to talk a lot about what you do in order to find potential customers. Rather, ask people you meet questions about them and their business, then listen carefully to their answers. Find points of commonality that you can bring into the conversation.
6. Sit with people you don’t know. Many events have walk-around networking followed by a sit-down meeting of some sort. During the walk-around, do talk to people you have met before to enhance your relationship, but sit with people you don’t know in order to widen your network and meet potential customers. Here too, ask questions and listen.
7. Talk to people who are standing alone. People attend networking events to meet others. If someone is standing alone, that’s the perfect opportunity to make a new contact. You might want to start the conversation by saying, “May I join you?”
8. Move on – politely. Don’t spend all of your time talking to one person. Gather the information you need, exchange business cards, if appropriate, and move on. I often say, “I’d like to do some mixing now. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.”
9. Give to get. Focus on what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Perhaps you know someone who could use your prospects services. If you do, make the referral.
10. Follow up. If you make a good connection with someone, after the event, send a note saying how much you enjoyed meeting them. If appropriate, send an article or some kind of information that they might find helpful. Do not add them to your mailing list without their permission.
Networking is a process, not a one-off event. Take the time to develop relationships with people who interest you. Be proactive and invite someone to a one-to-one meeting so you can get to know them.
Remember that most business owners and practitioners are looking for connections. Be bold and step forward into their world.