Networking is frequently talked about in the entrepreneurial world yet its importance is often under-valued by many over-worked and time-stretched business owners. Networking experts tell us that networking is a core activity to keep your sales pipeline full. Networking allows you to connect with existing and potential customers, referral sources and venture partners. It also helps ensure you do not get forgotten. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” can certainly have a negative impact on the consistency of sales and business growth.
There a a few key important steps to consider when you go out networking to ensure the time and effort are worthwhile for your business.
1. Choose Wisely
Networking is a very expensive form of marketing when you consider the costs associated with your time, transportation and parking, and the cost of the event. Given the array of meetings, seminars and other events available each week, you will want to select the events that are attended by your target customer or colleagues who would make a good joint venture or referral partner.
2. Have a Purpose
Do you know what you want to achieve at each event you attend? Just showing up is not enough, and your results will show it. On the other hand, you don’t want to attend with the sole purpose of selling to everyone you meet. Too many times I hear people leaving events saying how disappointed they are because they didn’t sell something. Yes, the ultimate goal is to sell your goods or services but not during the event.
At each event you have an opportunity to meet numerous people and exchange information and business cards, but you can’t meet everyone. Most likely you also already know some people. When you predetermine your purpose for attending the event, you have an opportunity to reap the rewards of your efforts. At each event, have a goal to make 2-3 solid connections. If you meet someone who is not your target client or colleague, your interactions can be short. Spend a bit longer with those who may be a good fit with your goal.
3. More than a Number
Success is in the follow-through. Each networking event offers a brief opportunity to make a connection and learn what you can about the wants and needs of each person you meet. It isn’t enough to do business. You have to build a relationship and the “know, like and trust” factor for real business to be done.
After each meeting, reconnect with each person you had a good conversation with. Personalize your message in a way that reflects your conversation or observations. We all like to receive a message that is more than the routine message, “It was nice meeting you last night.” Whether you phone or email, your follow-up will add to the relationship you have started to build. Consider attaching an article you think they may enjoy, share some information you promised or arrange for a “coffee date” to learn more about them. Then connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus to continue the relationship building process.
Networking offers every entrepreneur with a wonderful opportunity to make connections, add to your network by building relationships and leveraging to grow your business. It just takes the right approach.