Networking Tips

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What Will a Display Do for my Business?

Putting Yourself On Display

Most networking organizations have opportunities for businesses to set up table displays where they have samples of their products or marketing collateral. These are great (and usually affordable) opportunities to let people get to know your business!

Appeal: Naturally, people will flock to well-designed tables. Make sure to only have the necessities at your table: products (if applicable), brochures and flyers, and something sweet to entice people to visit.

Candy is a favorite of exhibitors everywhere. Another popular option is a drawing or contest where visitors get the chance to win one of your products (or a door prize, if your products are expensive or custom-built).

Promotional Material: Make sure your brochures and marketing collateral is professional in appearance, and covers relevant product information. You may need to customize the collateral to better suit your audience. For instance, if you sell doors, and your collateral addresses homeowners, but you decide to exhibit at a construction show, customize your collateral to address builders, rather than homeowners.

Capturing Your Audience: You need contacts; that's the purpose of getting a table display. You can do this by either putting out a fishbowl for people to drop their business cards into, or having a sign-up sheet where people who are interested can give you their contact information and sign up for your newsletter.

Be as informative as possible when talking with potential customers. Set up as many meetings as you can at the event and follow up with a phone call.

How Can I Use Volunteering to Network?

Volunteering For Your Soul And Your Business

If you're tired of the networking scene in your town, give it a twist: try volunteering. You get to work with others for a cause, and in the meantime, build relationships that could turn into business down the road.

Networking is all about selling. But with volunteering, you don't have a specific agenda to sell, which makes the relationships you create more sincere. People who trust you will trust your business if and when they need your type of service or products.

What Can I Do? Not only will you build relationships that can translate into customers, you will build your portfolio of good-doing. If you have a strong set of business development skills, volunteer your time for fund raising. If you're a strong writer and PR person, help out with press releases and media management. You are essentially putting your good skills to work, resulting in experience to build on.

How Will Volunteering Bring Sales? Think about the people you have met at church, at your children's school, in the community. You probably know where they work, and if anyone mentions needing services or products, you immediately think of the people you know can provide them. It works the same with volunteering. People get to know you, and they know what you do for your day job. When the time comes for them to purchase the kind of item or service you sell, you are the person at the top of their list!

Where Can I Volunteer? There are hundreds of nonprofit and volunteer organizations that need help across the country. Find a group that works for a cause you want to help with, such as the American Cancer Society or Multiple Sclerosis Society.

What is a Networking Event Like?

Networking 101: What to Expect

So you're nervous about attending your first networking event. Here's what you should expect, and what you should do to maximize your experience:

Like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared: Before you go to the event, prepare yourself. Bring a stack of business cards, as well as any brochures or samples you have about your business. Create an “elevator speech” to tell the people you meet who you are and what you do. It should be 30-60 seconds long. Practice your speech until you are confident and comfortable giving it.

Dress for the occasion. Networking events are business affairs, so dress accordingly.

Once You're There: You'll get your name tag at the reception area. Once in the room, survey the scene. There may be businesses set up at booths around the room, or dining tables if a meal will be served.

Decide where you want to start. Pick a person or table that looks interesting and introduce yourself (your speech will come in handy). Ask lots of questions: what is your line of business? How long have you been operating? You will learn how to ask questions that lead up to pumping your own company. Keep them talking, and you're likely to pick up needs they have that you can fill.

Don't Forget: Get the business card of everyone you talk to, whether they seem like a future client or not. Sometimes networking relationships take a while to cultivate, and while someone you meet may not need your services that day, they very well may call you down the road.

How Can I Make Sales on a Shoestring Budget?

Get the Sale Without Spending A Ton

Networking is one of the most affordable, effective forms of advertising available to small business owners. Networking involves regularly attending meetings or events with other business people, with the purpose of connecting with a group of like-minded individuals. By building relationships with this group of people, you build trust. They come to know you as a person, and vicariously, they get to know and trust your business.

Getting Started: Not every networking group is ideal for you. Each group has its own focus, so research the groups in your area and decide which you fit best with:

  • Frequency: Some groups meet every week, while others meet monthly. Do you have the time to dedicate for weekly meetings? If a group has mandatory attendance, can you ensure you can make it to every meeting?
  • Gender-Specific: Some networking groups focus on women or men entrepreneurs, while others are mixed.
  • Specific Functions: Some groups are all about generating business for one another, and others are more philanthropic in nature. Don't go into a meeting with an agenda different from everyone else.
Once you find a few groups you're interested in, attend a few meetings before you lay down the cash to become a member of the organization. Some groups ask for $200-$300 for annual dues, which is pretty hefty considering you may not find a good match with the group. Usually, you can attend several meetings before you have to decide if you want to join.

How Can I Keep in Touch with my Contacts?

Networking Is A Contact Sport

If you regularly attend networking functions, are you making the most of your contacts? You should get business cards from every single person you meet at these events and enter these contacts into your database. By following up, you can keep in touch with potential customers.

Thank You Card: Directly after meeting a business contact, send them a personalized card, and include the following:

· State it was nice meeting them

· Mention what you can provide them in the way of benefits with your product/service

· Add personalized comment, such as “I hope your daughter gets betters soon,” based on your conversation

Newsletter: Building your newsletter database means building your sales. Your newsletter can include informative articles on your field or monthly specials and discounts offered only to subscribers.

Thoughtful Touches: When holidays come around, make your contacts feel special. Send holiday and birthday cards to your mailing list, letting them know you're thinking of them on these special days. As you know, people like to feel special, and getting a card from you will make them feel fantastic.

When the time comes for these contacts to buy what you sell, you can be sure you're on the top of their list.

What Makes a Great Introduction?

Your Key To A Great Networking Introduction

You've probably heard the term “elevator speech.” But do you really know how important it is in making new contacts? This short introduction is the only thing fellow businesspeople know about you and what you do, so you have to make the most of it.

Your speech should be no more than 15 to 17 seconds long. It's hard to fit in all the important things you want to say about your business in that short timeframe, but you'll be amazed just what you can pack in!

There are five key areas you should highlight with your introduction:

  1. Who. It seems to be a no brainer. Tell your audience who you are. But don't start at the beginning (“I was born on a farm…”). Tell your name and your business, title optional.
  2. Where. Saying where you are from or where your office is can open the door to conversations. You may find people who were also born in Chicago but moved to New York, but until you add that element (“I'm from New York, by way of Chicago,”), that door will never open.
  3. What You Do. Give a short, one sentence description of what your business does. You probably already have a quick description of what you do. Consider adding some jazz to it to make it more exciting.
  4. How You Add Value. If you met a woman who introduced herself as running a company that can double your cash flow, you're going to perk up. Find a snazzy benefit your business provides, and put it into your introduction.
  5. Quantify How You Add Value. If you have numbers, back up your claim. If you can say you have helped 200 businesses double their cash flow, that's a number people pay attention to.

How Can I Make Time for Networking in my Busy Schedule?

Carve Out Time For Networking

As a business owner, you're busy. That's a given. How much time do you put into networking and making new contacts? If it's less than half of your professional time, that may not be enough.

Networking isn't an instant business generator. It's about building long-term relationships, with the hope that one day they may turn into sales or partnerships. So that means you can't only invest in networking when you need new clients. It's an ongoing process that you have to work at developing.

If you don't have time to network, make time. Nothing is a better time investment than networking. Set up a schedule each month that includes networking in your busy calendar. When you're at a networking event, be there fully. Don't check voicemail and email. Focus on building relationships with the people in your group.

Remember that you network to give, not to get. Having the right attitude when you meet other like-minded business owners is important, because networkers can spot a sales shark. A sales shark is the person who has no other agenda than his own, and wants to make contacts turn into sales. That's a turnoff in the networking world, so don't be guilty of it.

Be open to what you might find at events. You may need an interior decorator or babysitter and find one by building relationships!

What's a Good Networking Icebreaker?

Common Ground

“I like your scarf!”

What's a better way to meet someone at a networking event than to compliment them (especially women)? Everyone likes compliments, and it puts them at ease if you start off with one.

It's daunting to the most confident of people to walk into a room of strangers and start making friends. Tell yourself that you have something in common with each and every person in the room, if only the fact that you all decided to attend the event.

Starting off with a compliment makes it easy to transition into introductions and discussions about your businesses. The more questions you ask, the easier it is to get to know your new friend.

What Do We Have in Common? You don't have to talk business at all at a networking event. If you meet a woman whose son has been potty trained recently, and you're going through the same thing, by all means, have potty talk! But leave with a business card and the knowledge that you just started building a relationship with someone.

Remember: common ground makes a great followup. When you send a note saying it was great meeting a contact, you can add a personal note about your new common ground (“Did you hear the Little League is starting up soon? Let me know if your son will be joining!”) that can make an otherwise stuffy business relationship more personable.

How Can I Network - I'm Shy!

Fake It ‘Til You Make it!

Did you know 93% of people self-identify as shy? So how does someone who hid from the neighbors out of shyness as a child make contacts and find clients?

Fake it.

If you're not confident by nature, pretend you are. You're not wearing a sign that says, “I am shy and lack confidence.” The great thing about a room full of strangers is that they know nothing about you. You can have false bravado and they'll never be the wiser.

If speaking in front of people has always been your downfall, you're not alone. Remember that the people you meet are likely just as terrified as you are to be put on the spot. Practice your introduction and speech in front of a mirror until you can deliver it naturally and without prompts.

We're not in junior high anymore. What's the absolute worst thing that could happen to you at a networking event? You stumble over a word? You trip down the stairs? It's not the end of the world. In fact, you'll probably find a lot of encouragement, rather than the taunting shrieks you remember from your school days. Grown ups handle embarrassment a lot better.

The best scenario is that you make new contacts, new business partners, and new friends. Through networking, you can build relationships that will last the rest of your life.

What Kind of Contacts Do I Need?

Where Do Your Contacts Lie?

We can all use more contacts. Even if you have hundreds of contacts in your address book, how many can you actually rely on to be active business opportunities? There are three types of networking contacts. Sometimes your contact may fall into more than one category.

Operational: Operational contacts are those people that can help you run your business efficiently. That may be someone who sells office supplies or software solutions, or someone looking for a job in marketing when you have an open position.

Strategical: Strategical contacts help us grow our business. That could be a new client for your company or a firm you can partner up with to provide a greater range of services. Say for instance you own a computer hardware company. If you meet a contact that owns a software company, you may be able to join forces and corner a part of the IT market neither of you could have captured before!

Personal: Not every networking meeting generates sales. Sometimes you meet people that think like you (you're all passionate entrepreneurs, so the likelihood is great) that you want to spend time with. You might never talk about business again in your relationship, or you may bounce ideas off one another.

Don't go into a networking group with your sights set on only getting new business. You may miss some other valuable contacts while you're wearing your blinders.

How Should I NOT Network?

How NOT to Network

You are hungry. You want sales. You go to local networking events with the goals of finding customers and generating revenues. You will fail.
Here are some tips on what NOT to do when you network.

  • Be Pushy. Everyone at networking events wants to make contacts that turn into sales. But what makes a networking event different from a sales call is the subtlety. If you want to turn your audience off, push your products on them. Follow them around, touting how great your products are.
  • Pursue a Contact, Even if He's Not Interested. Never say never, right? Everyone knows that in the sales world, no means yes. If you meet someone who says they're not interested, don't believe them. Keep on plugging away and you'll make the sale (or not)!
  • Stay Self-Centered. It's all about you at networking events. Don't waste your time by asking questions about others. You don't really care, do you??
  • Skip the Presentations. You're there to make money, so why waste valuable time listening to speakers tell you how to make money?
  • Get Drunk. Hey, why would they have a bar at the event unless you were supposed to take advantage of it? Besides, a beer or two makes you a more convincing salesman.
  • Don't Bother with Business Cards. If people really understand how great your product is, they'll call you. So just sit by the phone and wait!

How Can I Network at Seminars?

Business Seminars As Networking Tools

Out and out networking events aren't your only resources for potential customers. Most cities have seminars and talks on different elements of business, such as:

  • How to run a small business
  • Effective marketing techniques
  • Closing a sale
  • Getting repeat customers
These topics might be taught at a networking event, continuing education school, or chamber of commerce. Some are free, while others may require a small payment for attendance.

Classes like these will be filled with other entrepreneurs, which, depending on your business, may be great contacts! You may find business owners that need your products or services, know people that do, or who may be able to partner up with you on a joint venture.

On the Other Side of the Podium: Don't think of these opportunities just from the position of an audience member. Giving a seminar or talk is also a great way to get to know people locally, and it sets you apart as an expert in your field.

Your audience will be eager to talk to you after your presentation, to learn more about what you know. Leverage these opportunities to expand your contact list, and you will quickly see your sales grow as a result!

How Can I Network Online?

Online Networking: The Thing of the Future

Too busy to attend a networking luncheon every week? Technology lets you network when and how you want – online! You can take advantage of great networking tools online to build relationships with like-minded business people and potential clients.

Advertising Options: Networking groups today usually offer you your own web page or advertisement on their website as part of your membership package. Members, as well as anyone else browsing the site, will see your ad, and if they click on it, will be taken to your professional website. Advertising through a networking group is usually a lot more affordable than advertising with other sources.

Unlimited Resources: Who better to ask for advice than people who have already done what you're doing? Fellow networkers form a great support chain to help you when you have questions about billing, accounting, sales, and warehouse space, among other topics.

Online networking sites have forums or chat boards where you can post a question or search to see if your question has already been answered. You may find the answer from a member halfway around the world!

Connected Contacts: Even if a fellow member of a networking group doesn't know you personally, has never seen you or spoken to you, there is a bond that exists purely by you being a part of the same organization. Don't be afraid to contact a member who might be interested in your company. The results may surprise you. Many business owners get one third or more of their business through online networking groups!

How Can Use Networking to Get Sales NOW?

Don't Wait ‘Til the Last Minute

Are you desperate because sales aren't coming in the way you hoped? Are you looking for a quick fix, some instant customers? Networking is not your solution. Unfortunately, many people turn to networking expecting to close sales the same day. It just doesn't happen (all that often). Networking is about developing and nurturing relationships that may or may not turn into sales.

Start Before You Need To: Don't wait until things are frantic to start networking. Start when things are great. You'll give off a better vibe than desperation, which will make you more contacts. This way, you have a better chance of your contacts turning into sales when you really need them.

Nurture Your Contacts…Even When You're Swamped: Keep up with the people you click with once a week or once a month. Check in to see that they're doing ok. If they feel that you genuinely care, they won't run if you call with that strained, hungry sound in your voice when you need something.

Don't Have Expectations: If you don't expect to make $1 million in sales from networking, you will have to be pleasantly surprised with any sales you do get as a result of your relationship building. Go into networking with an open mind, with the idea of What can I provide, rather than What can I get out of this?

How Can I Network if I Have no Time?

Outside of the Event: Networking in Life

Don't pack away your networking boots as soon as your monthly meeting is adjourned. Every day, every person you meet, is an opportunity to network, so learn how to take advantage of it.

  1. Change your perspective. Maybe you never thought of your neighbors or the guy you always see at the coffee shop as part of your network. But you never know where they may lead.
  2. Change the subject. If you always discuss ballet with the woman you chat with while waiting for your daughters in dance class, you may never find out that she is the CEO of an investment bank. Get off the usual topics and talk business. You may find alliances you never knew existed.
  3. Be blatant. If you're looking for new talent, ask the guy who works at (maybe owns) the gym if he knows anyone like what you're looking for. He may have a cousin that recruits executives, and may be able to get you the family discount!
Don't look at networking as something that takes up too much of your time. You can build relationships in your network while you're doing almost anything: grocery shopping, running errands, watering the plants! Make the most of the relationships (big or small) that you have in your personal life and turn them into business contacts!

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Guru Spotlight
Carma Spence-Pothitt