Working the Networking GroupsNetworking functions just like those childhood “Connect-a-Dot” pictures. One person leads to another and another and, eventually, a new client or customer is revealed. Alternately, it can be like matchmaking, one person identifies a need and someone else helps connect that person with someone else who can fill that need.
But with all the networking groups that exist, which ones are best for you? And how can you get the most out of each mixer? The following seven networking tips will help you not only improve business but also make interesting new friends and acquaintances.
1. Explore your opportunities. Joining a variety of networking groups gives you access to the widest range of people. There are generally four types of groups: business networking groups, such as BNI or I AM WOMAN; geographic groups, such as your local Chamber of Commerce; service groups, such as Kiwanis; and industry-specific associations, such as SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers). Attend a group at least three times before deciding whether it’s for you. Groups don’t have to carry the “networking” label to be good opportunities. What about community groups connected with schools, sports, theaters? Where do people in your business’ target market gather?
2. Farm, don’t hunt. Many approach a mixer with the hope or expectation that they’ll make a new client from that event. You’ll find more success, however, if you view networking as a long-term process. Get clear on why you’re networking. “It’s more about farming than it is about hunting,” says Dr. Ivan Misner, co-author of Masters of Networking and Founder of BNI (Business Networking International). “It’s about cultivating relationships with other people.”
3. Don’t forget your networking “accessories.” Of course, always come to an event with business cards and a name tag (although these are typically provided). On the latter, include not only your name but what you do as well. This gives others an easy starting point for conversation. In addition, make a habit of writing notes on the back of each business card after the event so you can personalize your follow up calls and emails. Handing out your newsletter (if you have one) with a business card attached has a doubling effect.
4. Get curious. First, be genuinely interested in the people you meet. Ask questions that aren’t limited to someone’s profession. For instance: What are your passions? What is one way you have fun at work? What is something that makes you special or unique in your industry? Who are your ideal clients? Such questions open up conversation and encourage connection on a more personal level.
5. Have your “elevator speech” down cold, so you can adapt it depending on your audience. Have a clear, concise and specific explanation of what you do and how it helps others. What problem (what “pain”) do you solve for your target audience? Be able to succinctly articulate this – IN PLAIN ENGLISH – without people’s eyes glazing over. Avoid industry jargon, and vague, flowery language. You want to encourage a conversation, not stop it before it starts.
6. Offer referrals whenever possible. Often, those who gain the most at networking events are those who give the most. Focus more on what you can give to others than on what you’ll get from them. “When I walk into a room, I’m always looking at how I can benefit someone else’s life,” says Melanie Benson Strick, Director of Shared Vision Network-Los Angeles, a professional and development networking group for entrepreneurs.
7. Be scrupulous with your follow up. Meeting people is just the beginning. It’s the follow up that turns connections into relationships. However, the first contact is not the place for a sales pitch. Instead, follow up within 48 hours with material that will help the person, such as a free audio download or a clipped magazine article. “You don’t build trust when the first thing you do is ask someone to buy your product and service,” Misner says. The key, really, is to court. But with sincerity and a genuine desire to help others.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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