If you are new to business networking, then you have come to the right place. Business networking can be one of the more important and valuable aspects of marketing your business, from getting it off the ground to getting to the next level of success no matter where you are in the life cycle of your business. Many businesses, especially solopreneurs and small business, attribute their success to attending and actively participating in local business networking meetings when they got started.
Developing good business networking skills can be critical to the success of your business. After all, how else will potential clients or customers find out about your product or service? Some people associate networking with acting phony and handing out business cards to everyone you meet. Yes, you will come across those people now and then but you never see them for very long because no one appreciates that level of insincerity.
Look at good networkers. If you want to be good at business networking then think for a minute about people you know who are good at networking. What makes them good? In all likelihood, they are genuinely friendly, sincere and good at listening. They also tend to be concerned about learning about the other people they are talking to. Overall, they are interested in helping other people instead of just getting business.
Take an assessment. After you have determined the qualities of a good networker, it is time to take an honest assessment of your own capabilities.
- How good are you at interacting with people in a business setting?
- How good are you at introducing your self to someone you don’t know?
- Do you tend to do most of the talking?
- How good are you at giving referrals to other people without concern of getting anything in return?
- Are you good at returning emails and phone calls?
Get it right. A lot of people go to business networking meetings without knowing how to network most effectively. Business networking is much, much more than simply showing up to networking meetings, telling people what you do and collecting business cards. Surprisingly, that is precisely what a lot of people do. It’s about getting to know people who could be customers or clients of yours or who will introduce you to potential clients or customers.
Moving forward. Don’t worry if you feel you come up short in any of those areas. You have to start somewhere and if you have room for improvement in any of these areas, we will help you with that. The most important thing is that you are aware of these areas. This is one of the many things you will learn about growing your business.
Have a plan. It is important to have a structured plan when you go to business networking meetings. Then, make sure you stick to that plan. To create your plan, start by considering your goal. What do you want to accomplish at business networking meetings? How many leads to you want to gain every month? Where do your clients and customers go to network? What kinds of businesses benefit from your products or services?
Effective Business Networking
Avoid cliques. Too many people go to business networking meetings and talk to the same people every time. This defeats the purpose of business networking and instead becomes more of a social gathering. Of course, people become friends and acquaintances, but as a business person your time is very valuable and in order to be successful, you have to spend it wisely. So the first order of business at networking meetings is avoid the cliques.
Have a plan. When you go to business networking meetings, go in with a plan and stick to it. To do this, you will likely have to go outside of your comfort zone and work on new skills. This can be challenging for many people but just keep your goal in mind and continue to move forward.
Meet new people. Go in with a goal of meeting at least three new people at every meeting you go to. Whether it is a business networking meeting or luncheon, it is perfectly acceptable and even expected to go up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. If you are really committed to being an effective business networker, seek out people you don’t know as soon as you show up. You’ll really make a great impression on people who are showing up to the meeting for the first time. If you don’t make it a point to meet new people at every meeting, you will inevitably end up associating with the same people at every meeting.
Try to go to 2 or 3 new meetings every month. Some meetings are free while others require a membership fee. Almost all meetings are free for the first one of two times you show up before you are required to join. You will also come across some meetings that are industry specific, meaning that they only allow one member per industry. This means that if a life insurance agent is an active member of a particular group, they will not allow another life insurance agent to join.
Attend different types of business functions. Going to business networking meetings are a great start, but also attend other types of business functions, such as chambers of commerce, a museum council meeting, an arts society meeting, civic groups meetings (such as Kiwanis, Lion’s Club, etc.), the local soccer league or your Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Seek out organizations that allow you to actively engage with local people who are active in the community.
Bring business cards. In the networking business, wherever you go be sure you bring your business cards with you. When you become good at business networking, it is soon easy for you to strike up a conversation with people wherever you go, whether it is at the grocery store, the library or even out walking your dog. Typically in these situations the conversation is quite social in nature but it is not uncommon for the question, “What do you do?” to pop up. When this happens, you always come across as a professional when you can give the other person your business card.
When you go to meetings, don’t go straight to your seat. Frequently, you see people sitting in their chair by themselves just waiting for the meeting to get started. What is the point of that? Remember, you’re time is valuable so make the most of it. When you show up to a networking business meeting, show up as if you are showing up to work and then get to work! Walk right up to someone you have never met and introduce yourself!
Don’t sit with people you already know. Again, this is how you avoid settling into a clique. In order to keep expanding your business, you have to keep meeting new people. If you are at a luncheon or some other kind of business seminar, you may be sitting with people for a few hours or more. In this case, it is best to be sitting with potentially new clients or customers. If there are people attending who you consider to be friends, you can always catch up with them later.
Be proactive. Just about every kind of networking group needs people to help out with the operational aspect of the running a group. Volunteer for one of these positions! This puts you in a leadership role and allows you to actively engage with their members. Larger groups may have committees or boards and these are terrific opportunities to be seen as a leader within your community. These kinds of positions allow you access to other people you would not normally have the opportunity to meet.
Host events. even if you are not. One of the best pieces of advice when business networking is to act as if you are hosting the event. Be very friendly and approachable when attending, grateful for everyone you meet. Make everyone you meet feel welcome. Ask them how they found out about the meeting and and how you can help them. Actively introduce them to others. Suggest ways they can improve their business or provide them with a referral. When you actively put them at ease you come across as a leader and someone they will gladly help in some way. They will also feel more at ease and likely be more engaged with the group.
Always have a goal. Remember to always have a goal every time you go to a business networking meeting. It doesn’t always have to be to get the business cards of three new people. It can also be to give a referral to two people, to schedule a one-on-one with at least one person, or simply to learn an answer to a problem you are having with your business. Always try to advance your business in some way every time you go to a networking meeting. Having a goal in mind when you walk into every networking meeting will help you be much more successful at networking and in your business.
What goes around comes around. Yes, your overall goal is to build your business by getting quality referrals from other business people and business owners you meet at various business functions. However, the best overall long-term path to this is to be willing to provide quality referrals to people you meet at these functions. When you help others build their business, they generally feel obligated to help you in return. Often times, the business they send your way exceeds the business you sent them.
30 second commercial. When you go to business networking meetings, it is not uncommon for the attendees to stand up and give their 30 or 60 second commercial. When you go to these meetings and you know the material presented in this article, you will be amazed at how many people do not know how to effectively present their business in 30 or 60 seconds. Many will speak vaguely and broadly about their business and others will leave people wondering what they actually do. Other events may not formally allow people to stand up and give their 30 second commercial, but you still want to be prepared to give your in the event someone asks you what you do.
Elevator speech. When you give your elevator speech, also known as a 30 second commercial, you don’t want to simply tell people what you do. Instead, you want to tell people how your business helps people. In order to do this well, you will have to sit down and write it down. After you have written your elevator speech, you want to re-write it and re-write it again so that it is perfect. When you do this, every word counts. After all, you only have 30 seconds to convince someone to genuinely be interested in your business and want to know more and eventually want your business or refer someone to you. One way to do this is to succinctly express positive outcomes that your clients or customers experience as a result of doing business with you. This is much better than simply listing the services your business provides.
Be enthusiastic. When you are talking about your business and how it helps people, your enthusiasm will gain more customers or clients than your actual product or service. If you genuinely enjoy your line of work, then your enthusiasm will naturally come through as you talk about it. However, it is also not uncommon to be a little nervous talking to people in public, especially when people may judge you as trying to sell them something. In order to overcome any nervousness talking about your business you will have to get out there and get used to talking about it. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable you will feel and subsequently, the more enthusiasm will come through.
Practice, practice, practice! Be able to confidently and enthusiastically tell someone about your business in 30 seconds or less so. Be able to so while conveying a strong message about your service in such a way they people are intrigued about your business. To do this, you will have to practice your 30 second commercial repeatedly until you can deliver it smoothly, confidently and with genuine enthusiasm. If practicing your elevator speech seems odd to you remember, your business is a serious matter and if you are not perfecting your elevator speech, others are!