What is networking? Quite simply, it's developing business friendships. It's about meeting other business professionals and expanding your circle of influence. Widening your warm market. Helping others become successful. Networking is NOT about selling.
What is the best way to network? Schedule at least one weekly network-related activity. This can include Chamber of Commerce mixers, classes or seminars, professional organization meetings, industry association meetings, and social groups. Attend several and then decide which events are most effective for you. For instance, referral groups (such as BNI, Leads Club, or LeTip) are much more focused than social or community groups.
BEFORE THE EVENT:
- Appointment times. Before you go, check your schedule and make note of 2 or 3 "available" time slots within the next week. Then when you chat with folks, you can make appointments to meet with them during your available time slots.
- Name badge. Wear your name badge or name pin on your right lapel. That way, your name is noticed when you shake hands with your right hand.
- Business cards. Keep your business cards easily accessible by wearing a jacket with pockets. Put a stack of your business cards in your right pocket. When you receive a business card, put it in your left pocket so you don't get them mixed up (and accidentally hand out someone else's card).
- Limit distractions. Leave your cell phone in your car so you won't be tempted to answer it during the event! If you can't be without it for even an hour, please turn it off or mute it.
AT THE EVENT:
- Arrive early. This is the #1 best networking tip ever. When you arrive early, you are relaxed and not stressed. You meet others who also arrive early, giving you a head start. Before an event begins, most folks are relaxed and social. However, after the event, folks are rushing to their next appointment and don't have much time to talk. Arriving early gives you the opportunity to meet more people. Most importantly, you will probably meet the group leaders who arrive early to set up. Bonus: By arriving early, you are instantly acknowledged as a dependable "on time" person.
- Meet new folks. The best way to meet a new person? Make eye contact, smile, say hello, and shake hands. Then you can introduce yourself and offer to exchange business cards. Work your way around the room. When chatting, ask relevant questions and be a good listener. Find out something interesting about each person you meet, but don't dig too "deep." This is a time for casual conversation. Family and business are safe topics - don't venture into deep or controversial topics such as politics. Keep it light and positive and energetic. Don't get stuck in a long, drawn-out conversation. Make an appointment to meet later and then move on to chat with others.
- Make introductions. Be a leader by facilitating. Make others feel comfortable by introducing folks to other folks. When introducing, give each person's name, the type of business they are in, and a compliment or an interesting "tidbit" about each person. Then be quiet and let them meet each other. After a moment, excuse yourself and move on.
- Be there mentally. Give folks your undivided attention. When you are distracted, you're giving the message that the folks in front of you are not important. Do NOT talk on your phone, read text messages (or email) on your PDA handheld, or listen to music. That is the ultimate in rudeness.
AFTER THE EVENT:
- Help your new friends. When you get back to your office, pull out the business cards you received. Find a way you can help each new contact, such as giving a referral to a service he/she needs. This shows you care about your new friend, and can also help by referring business to another local business professional. As Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter say in Rich Dad, the more people you serve, the more successful you will become!
- Database entry. Develop and maintain your connection/network file. Immediately put your new contacts into your database (or address book). ACT! is a great database for marketing.
- Follow up. Mail out a note, card, or newsletter to each contact within 48 hours. Then call or email and set up a short appointment. You want to get to know them and their business better. You want to find out more so that you can send them qualified leads and referrals. Also, you would like to show them what you do so they can refer clients to you as well. Dedicate several hours per week to calling your new contacts and meeting them one-on-one.
- Stay in touch. Put your contacts into your automatic "drip system" and let it work for you. It's important to keep contact on a regular, systematic basis. Most prospective clients will see your name/brand /product about 7 times before they decide to do business with you, so be persistent!
A word of caution, however, about attending too many events. Limit yourself to 1 or 2 events per week. Otherwise, you'll meet lots of prospective clients but won't have any time to follow up. And what good does it do to meet people if you can't build the relationship? So only go to events when you know you will allocate time to follow up within the next week. A ratio of 1:1 works fine - that is 1 hour of networking to 1 hour of networking follow-up calls.
The best way to be successful is to practice. Get out of your comfort zone - it's okay to talk to strangers at business events! Practice everywhere you go. Smile and say "hi." You'll be surprised at the positive responses you'll receive.
Note: Don't confuse "networking" with "network marketing." Networking means meeting and mingling with business professionals; whereas Network Marketing usually refers to a direct sales company wherein most contact is through word of mouth.
For more networking tips, look for Riley Klein's forthcoming book, "Official Home-Based Business Guide 2008: Begin Your Own Successful And Rewarding Work-From-Home Career."