There are a variety of business networking experiences out there. There are the free groups on MeetUp, the weekly breakfast or lunch referral clubs, the evening mixers, and even events based around themes or trade-shows. The fact is there is no “right way” to network. All of these work some of the time and all of these will have events that are duds as well.
One of the biggest mistakes that we see business owners making is that they don’t put a full effort into the networking process and then don’t get the full benefits out of their experience. The reality is that many businesses increase their bottom line by thousands of dollars a year by participating in networking. When it is done well it can be a simple and enjoyable way to bring new, vibrant leads and excellent clients into your business.
Here are a few basic tips to get you started:
- Go to different kinds of networking events regularly. Make networking a part of your marketing plan. There is magic in seeing people face-to-face and having the experience of connection.
- Talk about them more than you talk about you.Dale Carnegie said, “people don’t care about what you know until they know how much you care.” While it is natural for participants to ask you about what you do, they really want to talk about what they do. So let them talk. If they ask you about your business say something quick in 30 seconds and then ask them another question about what they do. Keep them talking for a few minutes and then when you exchange business cards let them know that you found them interesting and that you would like to continue the conversation at a later date. Book the appointment on the spot or call them next week.
- Smile. Enjoy yourself. This is not supposed to be a painful exercise. It is visiting enjoyable people and talking about things that you love to talk about. Let your face know that you are happy inside and that will let others know that you are approachable and interested in them.
- Move around the room if you are able. Some networking events only allow you to sit in one spot, so sit in a different spot when you can. Get their early to meet others who are early and serious about their business. Sometimes you will be able to book two sales appointments before the meeting even gets started. If it is a standing event like a beer and wings night at a lounge, move around. Talk briefly with one person while staying fully engaged in what they are saying. Thank them for what they share. Exchange cards and then move around the room to meet others. Be careful not to interrupt conversations in process but stand by waiting for an opportunity to ask a question about one of the others speaking.
- Follow up.There is no point in networking or in even having a business if you are not going to be an avid follow up artist. Most sales do not transpire until after the 7th touch. That means if you quit talking to them after they said “no” or after they did not look interested, you are working against your own success. After one meeting with you they still don’t even really understand who you are or what you do. So develop follow up strategies that work for all of your levels of engagement. After a networking event give them a phone call and book a coffee. Send them a card. Then add them to your social media channels. Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you “like” their Facebook page and make a positive comment they will usually then say “yes” to a friendship request as well. Follow them on Twitter and they usually follow back. These are ways that they will continue to see your ongoing content and be touched by you over and over until eventually they call you for business. These things all create a funnel of activity that potential clients will fall into and your bottom line goes up as a result.
Kerry George is the owner of the Canadian Imperial Business Network which is currently the largest business network in Alberta and rapidly expanding across the country. She is a serial entrepreneur/author and speaker with a zest for life and a passion to help others succeed in increasing their potential and their bottom line. Kerry has several publications and blogs that you can follow and welcomes most interaction online.
Twitter: @createloyalty2U, @CIBNtweets, @yycbiznetwork