There are several reasons that people attend business networking events. Yet, most of us don’t benefit from attending these events as much as we could.
Many people go to networking meetings, or other places where they meet new people, and don’t have an objective for meeting new people — other than to just swap stories and enjoy each other’s company for an hour or so.
Like a computer network, your business network of contacts needs to be created before it can help anyone in the network.
But, you need the right network in place to help you accomplish your goals.
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Business Networking Tip #1: Know Your Objectives
The first step to business networking is to decide what’s the right network for you by determining what you want to accomplish with your network.
Here are some examples of reasons to network for various types of people that may help you clarify your own business networking objectives:
- Salespeople – Obtain referrals
- Consultants – Form partnerships with other consultants
- Job seekers – Learn about job openings
- Managers and executives – identify candidates to hire, community organizations to volunteer
- Entrepreneurs – Locate potential investors and partners
- Writers – Find people to interview and story ideas
- Architects – Identify people interested having a unique house or office building
- Accountants – Learn about people who are looking to grow their company
While it’s essential for you know your objectives, it’s even better if the people you meet at networking events know your objectives.
So how do you go about letting the people you meet at networking events know how they can help you? The first step is to take a bland introduction and turn it into letting people know about your objectives.
Here are some introductions that can accomplish this:
- Hello, my name is [name]. I’m a marketing consultant and I’m here to help people who are interested in improving their marketing.
- Hello, my name is [name]. I’m an accountant and I’m here to learn which companies in the community are growing.
- Hello my name is [name]. I’m an architect, and I’m here to meet people who like unique homes and office building.
- My name is [name]. I’m a wedding photographer and I’m here to meet people who like photography.
Notice that none of these introductions even imply that the people you meet should feel guilty for not buying your product or service, or using your company. You want to just let people know what you do and what you’re looking for.
As you can see, it can be tough to create an introduction that doesn’t look like you’re there to sell everyone your product or service. However, by having your business networking objectives in mind, you’ll be able to intersperse your objectives in conversations with the people you meet. The key is to not wait for the other person to get around to asking why you’re at the networking event — share a bit about why you’re there so they’ll know how they can help you.
In addition to letting the people know your objectives so they can help you, it’s important to be open to learning about their objectives as well.
When you meet people for the first time at a business networking event, you never know what you’ll find. As you chat with someone, you might meet someone who shares your interest in a sport or hobby, someone just starting out who appreciates a few tips from you, or even someone who becomes a supportive friend. None of these people may turn into business contacts, but these personal contacts may be just as valuable personally.
Be open and let people know about you. And, be open to the possibility of meeting someone who becomes a valuable business contact and personal friend.
Business Networking Tip #2: Update Your Business Card
Business cards are the currency of exchange at business networking events. Many people feel they’ve had a successful business networking experience if they’ve collected a lot of business cards — and have given their card to many people.
If business networking were that simple, we would all be tremendously successful!
While it’s a great to exchange business cards, the key question is whether they can look at your card a few days or weeks later and know why they should call you. If your business card doesn’t answer this question then you may never hear from that person again.
- A positioning statement slogan
- Mission statement
- List of products or services
- Logos of companies represented
- List of skills
- Licenses and certifications
Probably the hardest of these to create–yet the most effective–is a positioning statement slogan that includes two items. First, it identifies the type of customers or clients you serve. Second, it either describes the products or services you provide, or it describes the benefits your customers receive.
Here are examples of positioning slogans for various types of companies to get you started:
- Providing accounting services to growing entrepreneurs
- Precision drilling equipment for the aircraft industry
- Swimming pools for fun and exercise
- Lamps and shades that light modern homes
- Community calendar for your events and meetings
- Turning events into networking experiences
Business Networking Tip #3: Join Groups
You can network at practically any event or activity, but a few types of events produce the best business networking results.
Here are a few types of organizations that have events where you can meet other like-minded members:
- Chambers of Commerce
- Community service clubs
- Industry specific associations
- Professional associations
To find these organizations in your area check out these resources:
- Directory of Associations (www.marketingsource.com/associations/)
- Chamber of Commerce Locator (www.chamberofcommerce.com)
- National Association for the Self-Employed (www.nase.org)
- National Association of Women Business Owners (www.nawbo.org)
- Business and Professional Women’s Association (www.bpwusa.org)
- Lead’s Clubs (www.leadsclub.org)
- Business Network International (www.bni.com)
- B2B Power Exchange (www.b2bpowerexchange.com)
Once you find a few local groups and organizations to join, be sure to volunteer for committees that can use your skills. Working with key committees within an organization gives you an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships. It also gives other members an opportunity to see the quality of your work, which can lead to them including you in business-related projects and activities.
While networking at business-related groups produces great results, also be open to networking opportunities at your more casual and fun groups. In addition, it’s great to volunteer at civic and social services organizations.
Here are Web sites that can help you find volunteer opportunities at non-profit organizations:
- VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org)
- Business Volunteers Unlimited (www.businessvolunteers.org/volunteer.htm)
Whether you join business, civic, social services groups – or a casual group of people who share your interests – you’ll find that getting involved in groups will give you plenty of good networking opportunities.
Business Networking Tip #4: Turn Contacts Into a Network
After you’ve attended a number of business networking events and have collected a stack of business cards from contacts, you may ask yourself, “What do I do with these contacts?”
If you keep your contacts from knowing with each other, there’s little way they can work together to help you achieve your objectives. On the other hand, if you have introduced many of your contacts to each other, it’s easy for them to work with each other in ways that benefit both them and you.
While it’s possible for the contacts you introduce to each other to exclude you from their activities, that’s very unlikely when you are a key part of their lives.
- Introduce two contacts to each other when you see both of them at a networking event.
- Send an introductory e-mail to both people describing a bit about each person and why you think they would be interested in knowing each other.
- Schedule a conference telephone call for all three of you so you can introduce them to each other.
- Schedule a breakfast, lunch, or dinner where the three of you can meet.
Each person will be impressed that you’ve made a special effort to help them meet someone they’re likely to be interested in knowing.
The more you’re able to introduce people to each other, the tighter your network becomes, and the more everyone in your network will benefit from knowing each other.
Business Networking Tip #5: Make Notes About Each New Contact
Business networking events are great for meeting lots of new people, but an event can turn into a blur that makes it difficult to remember interesting details about each person you meet. So, be sure to take notes about each new contact.
While you’re at the networking event write on the back of a person’s business card a few key words that will jog your memory the next day. If you offer to do something for someone, be sure to write it on the back of the business card while you’re still talking to them. This helps you remember what you agree to do, and it shows your contact that it was important enough for you to write it down.
Also, note on their business card the date and name of the event where you met the person. I’m sometimes asked for contact information about someone I met at a specific event and having that on the back at cards make this search rather easy.
Business Networking Tip #6: Follow-Up With New Contacts
The next step is to start communicating with your new contacts to build the relationship.
After a business networking event take time to send each person you met an e-mail letting them know you’re glad you met them at the event.
Refer to something they said or to a common interest you discussed with them. be sure to mention ways to work together near future.
Letting people know that you enjoyed talking with them helps them remember you — and it helps you recall the reasons you wanted to stay in touch with them.
Business Networking Tip #7: Managing Your Contacts
It doesn’t take long to accumulate more contacts than you can manage with a business card file or address book. Today, the best way to manage the network of contacts is with a high-quality contact management software program or Web site service.
Many people now use contact management software on a personal computer. By using software on your computer you’re assured the contacts are easily available when you’re at your computer. These days, however, we’re more mobile and need our contacts in more places than we can take our desktop computer — or even our laptop computer.
The newest way to always have your contacts close at hand is by using one of the Web-based contact management services that you can use anywhere you have access to the Internet. In addition, the best contact management services also sync your contacts to your PDA or smartphone.
Address book software programs keep a wide range of fields of data. However, they’re limited in their ability to help you actually manage interactions with your network of contacts. That’s where Web-based contact management services really shine.
Some contact managers and event registration systems make it easy to store traditional address book data, but it can also automatically update your data when your contacts change their phone number, e-mail address, or other data. In addition, those contacts who allow you to see their personal or business profile can automatically keep you up-to-date on what they’re doing.
Business Networking Tip #8: Remembering To Keep In Contact With Your Contacts
After all, the whole point of networking is to create a network of contacts that you know — and who know you — so you can work together on projects and activities. The people who you interact with frequently you have “top of mind awareness” — it’s easy to think of including them in your projects and activities.
But what about those other people in your network? How will you remember to include them when you have an opportunity appropriate for them? And how will they remember to include you in their projects and activities?
The answer to both questions lies in increasing the frequency that you contact the people in your network. As your network grows this becomes harder to manage.
The solution is to use a feature in your contact management system or CRM software that reminds you when it’s time to renew the contact. Good contact management and CRM tools make it easy to create a reminder when it’s time to contact someone. In CRM systems this is frequently called a task or action item. Set the date for the task for month or two in the future. Then, the software will float the item to the top of your to do list when it’s time to renew a contact.
Unfortunately, most address book programs do not include good contact management features. If your address book program has a calendar you can create “appointments” in the future to remind you when to renew a contact. Just be sure these calendar entries aren’t confused or obscure actual meetings and events on your calendar that you need to attend.
Include a “Next Contact Date” in your contact management area to make follow-up easier. After each networking event, just go down the list of contacts who attended the event and update the “Next Contact Date” field. Your system will remind you when it’s time to renew each contact.
Business Networking Tip #9: Give Speeches To Groups
Many civic groups and business groups are eager to have speakers present informative, educational, and inspirational speeches and presentations to their members.
While practically all local groups expect speakers to volunteer to speak for free, it’s an opportunity to highlight what you know and what you do.
Look through the calendar in your local business newspaper, daily newspaper, or various online calendars to find groups that have speakers at monthly meetings. Then, send them a brief proposal offering to speak to their group.
Be specific and talk about the things you know best. Don’t try to teach people everything you do. Focus on no more than two or three areas of what you want them to learn about. Most importantly, cover the topics you feel you understand the best. This will reduce some of your stress.
Use handouts, visuals, or PowerPoint slides to support your presentation. For people who are worried about stage fright, these props can help carry them through the talk. These tools help communicate to your audience — and serve as an outline to remind you of what to say.
Here are a few types of organizations that use speakers at events:
- Chambers of commerce
- Community service clubs
- Industry specific associations
- Professional associations
You are probably a member of at least one of these groups (see Tip #4), so you may already know the person in that group who schedules speakers.
One of the benefits of networking through public speaking is that after your speech, people who are especially interested in your topic will come up and introduce themselves, and give you their business card. Others in the audience will write down your contact information (from your last slide or from the host organization’s event materials).
It takes time and effort to work this process, but the benefits of public speaking are tremendous.
Business Networking Tip #10: Host An Event
After you have connected with a number of people who share a common interest, it’s a good time for you to host an event to bring these people together.
There are many types of events you can host, from round table discussion groups to larger community meetings with speakers and an opportunity to network.
Here’s a short checklist of the steps to preparing for an event:
- Choose a topic to present on that you are familiar with
- Choose a convenient location
- Prepare an agenda and event description
- Create a PowerPoint presentation and handouts
- E-mail an announcement containing a link to the event description and RSVP form using your event registration system
The types of events and locations include:
|Type of Event||Size||Venue|
|Discussion group||5-7 people||Restaurant with private dining room|
|Workshop teaching a skill||10-20 people||Hotel or banquet/meeting facility|
|Speaker and networking||20+ people||Hotel or company conference/training room|
|Conference with multiple speakers||100+ people||Hotel, conference center, or resort|
For small events you can draw upon your own network of contacts. However, for larger events you may want to partner with other presenters and send event announcements to people on each presenters’ contact list.
Becoming a public speaker and event organizer has several advantages beyond building a contact network. Speakers are frequently asked to consult on projects, join community task forces and committees, and be interviewed by the media. In addition, producing conferences and similar events can become a significant source of revenue and profit.