Helping business owners with mental health issues, Start Small but Dream Big
Mastering the art of networking
As covered in an earlier article, networking should be a key part of your marketing strategy. As this article by GetAmbassador.com demonstrates, word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool there is.Mastering the art of networking may take a little time, but it has been proven to be a cost-effective way of building a business. While the people you meet might not need your service or product, chances are they know people who do.
I’ve attended more than a few networking groups and events over the years, and I’ll be honest – I wasted many opportunities in the early days. Why? Because I didn’t know how to network effectively. I thought that turning up with business cards would be enough. It wasn’t. I missed out on business because I didn’t understand what I should be doing. In this article, we’ll look at some of the dos and don’ts of networking so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
Plan, plan, plan
Think about where your business might come from. While referrals might potentially come from anywhere, people in certain professions are more likely to need your particular product or service. Or will know others who do. Identify these. For example, if you provide office cleaning, a mechanic is unlikely to require your services, and is less likely to know people who would.
Choose your networking group or events carefully. There are only so many hours in the day and you don’t want to waste your time if there are no opportunities for you. As covered in the article on finding networking groups, ask what their existing members do, attend a few, and get a feeling for them before committing.
Many groups publish the names and professions of their members online, and networking events often produce a list of those attending. Use this to make a list of who you want to speak to at the group or event. See if you can connect with them with them beforehand, perhaps through LinkedIn groups, or on Twitter. This will hopefully make them aware of your name before you actually meet. Mention that you will be attending the same event, and that it would be good to meet.
Make sure you have enough business cards. It sounds obvious but people do forget. You don’t want to be scrabbling about looking for paper and a pen, or hoping that someone remembers you.
You will get asked what you do. Be prepared with a short, ‘elevator’ pitch (we’ll cover how to create an elevator pitch in another article). If you haven’t heard of these, it’s a simple description – with your USP – of what you do, that will hopefully be memorable. My husband’s cleaning business uses the tagline ‘Never notice our cleaning, guaranteed.’ Why? Because you don’t notice cleanliness, only dirtiness. When he talks about his business, he makes sure that he gets that in. People are surprised by it – after all who doesn’t want their business noticed? It gives him the chance to explain more about his business, and they remember it.
Don’t be afraid to approach people first. Lots of people will be feeling uncomfortable and unsure, and will appreciate you making the effort. Think beforehand about how you will approach the people you want to speak to. Will you just introduce yourself? Or start with a lead-in along the lines of ‘What do you think of the event?’. Be aware of your body language. Make sure it’s open and confident. This will help people feel confident when they speak to you. This inc.com article contains some great tips.
Be an active listener. Ask questions. Listen to what the other person is saying. This will help you to identity if they have any needs that you can help with, even if they don’t say it directly. Alternatively, you might know someone who needs theirs. Tailor your responses accordingly. If you know someone in the room who might be able to build a beneficial relationship, introduce them. Be generous.
During the conversation, if you haven’t already, ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook (making sure that your page gives the right impression, of course). Make sure you get a business card, and keep it safe.
Mastering the art of networking means recognising the importance of follow-up. It’s tempting just to shove the business cards you’ve collected in your wallet or purse, or chuck them into a drawer. Don’t. Go through them, add notes to them about your conversation, and file them properly. Remember to get online and make the connections. Send them a short message when you connect, thanking them for their time. It’s amazing how far expressing a little gratitude will get you.
Stay in touch. Don’t overdo it, but send a congratulation message when they post about a success, or retweet something interesting they’ve written. Keep yourself in their mind without being overbearing. If you come across a business lead that could benefit them, pass it on. If they pass business on to you, make sure you thank them. This Forbes article offers some good tips.
With preparation and a little forethought, mastering the art networking is easy and effective. It may take a while for you to see the results, but it’s worth the time and effort. As mentioned in the above article, having an elevator pitch is important, and I will cover this in a later article.