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As a communications strategist, I recognized a big problem among our entrepreneurial clients — they needed a matchmaker to help them find the right partners, investors, clients and staff members.  My husband and I owned a high tech marketing agency and the need for productive networking was palpable, but the technology wasn’t there yet.  This is the time for smartphone enabled business networking

Our MatchUp (TM) solution that combines the Event Organizer with the Smart Phone & Computer System helps Attendees match with each other at the event.  We help sort out compatibilities with the algorithm.  The Organizer narrows the search with parameters… and the Attendee can fine tune their profiles to find the match they need today!

But the human factor is so important.  You can be matched with the perfectly compatible person, but if you do not engage in a meaningful conversation and then followup, your experience is useless.

Based on our experiences at networking and event organizing over the years, we’ve learned these tips for networking at events:

  1.  Know who you want to meet
  2.  Ask for referrals from people who know you…
  3.  Follow up, follow up, follow up

Know who you want to meet

Who do you need today to make progress in your job or your career?  Do you need a partner, an investor, clients or staff members?  Do you need someone part-time or full-time?  Know what you are looking for — the function in your life — and who the most likely candidates are.  That profile shapes YOUR profile!

Ask for Referrals 

If you don’t have a networking system available, use the old-fashioned one — ask for referrals.  But be specific and ask for the most common two or three attributes you need to find.  Your referrer needs to ask the right questions and give a bit of your information to help make a human match.

Follow up!

Following up is about making a business friendship.  It’s about learning more about each other and learning to trust one another’s judgment.  And it’s a long process to develop a really good contact.  Try to meet again soon.  Go for coffee together or meet at the next group meeting you have in common.  Send email.  Connect in social media and send short messages that might be of value to your contact.

Don’t overwhelm your new business contact, but connecting 3 or 4 times in the first month of your relationship can solidify your interest in them and flesh out the value that you bring to their life — and vice versa!

Make your business friendship friendly.  Don’t fall into gripes about your industry or colleagues.  Do promote positive ideas about how to make life better for both of you.  And share tidbits of helpful knowledge.  This is how trust is born and nurtured.

Successful networking!
Carolyn

Are you always on the lookout for a good book or article on networking techniques? Here’s one we spotted: Never Eat Alone by well-known networker Keith Ferrazzi,  a “how to network” book — tips and techniques on how to grow your contact network.

It’s a pleasant surprise to find that it’s really about growing relationships — mostly business relationships.

Networks vs. Relationships

You might wonder why there’s a distinction between networking and building relationships.

If you’ve ever been to a networking event and exchanged business cards with someone, only to never talk with that person again, then you were networking.

However, if you’ve had continuing interaction with that person — perhaps working on a project together or referring business to each other — then you have developed a networking contact into a relationship that will hopefully continue to grow and be valuable to both of you.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi explains the value of having access to people who can help you succeed. One of the keys to obtaining access to influential people is “reciprocity” — making sure that over time the relationship benefits both people. Sometimes you’ll need the other person for assistance, and sometime later the other person may ask you for help. The key is that neither person “keeps score” trying to equalize the amount of help each person gives the other.

Check Your Compass

A key aspect to developing a mutually beneficial connection is knowing how you and the other person can help each other.

This requires that you have a clearly defined mission, or general direction, that you’re heading. Those of us who work independently sometimes think we need to be very specialized and focus on doing one thing so we can have one “brand image.” However, networking only within a specialized area limits the range of people you meet.

Although I’ve worked in technology, advertising, media, sales, and other areas, there is a common thread to what I do: help business people communicate with customers better.

So, instead of being concerned about people thinking I lack career focus, I prefer to look at my overall “mission” or “purpose” that guides me in a general direction.

In other words, you don’t need a AAA road map with the complete route highlighted. But it does mean you need to check your career compass frequently to make sure the relationships you create will help move you in the right general direction.

Build It Before You Need It

Relationships take time to nurture. You need experience in dealing with another person so you’ll know how you can help and support each other.

This is why it’s important to build your network of contacts before you need to ask a contact for help or a referral.

It may be years before you need (or can help) someone in your network. This means it’s important to take good notes so you can later find a person’s information when you need it.

You may have heard a person described as having a “Golden Rolodex,” meaning they’ve collected contact information on a large number of valuable contacts. The use of paper-based Rolodex cards has declined in favor of contact management software (such as the contact manager in SureToMeet), but the objective is the same — you need to be able to quickly and easily retrieve contact data about the people in your network.

Food Builds Relationships

The title of Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, might lead you to believe that taking customers to lunch is the key to networking. Yes, lunch with prospects and customers is great. But he actually focuses part of the book on a different meal — dinner.

He tells several stories about how dinner parties became a key part of his networking strategy. He explains exactly how to have a dinner party that’s not only fun for everyone, but helps you accomplish your networking goals.

This is one of the techniques I’ve gleaned from his book and put into practice. I’ve hosted a number of small dinner gatherings recently, usually at restaurants convenient for everybody in the group.

One of the purposes of the gatherings has been to introduce people who don’t know each other. It’s amazing how often people are interested in meeting new people over dinner.

Online Networking vs. Face-to-Face Networking

In the past few years a number of social networking Web sites have sprung up. LinkedIn and Ryze are probably the two best sites for online business networking. The challenge in using these sites is what to do after you’ve identified a potential contact. Do you use that Web site’s messaging system to introduce yourself? Do you contact them directly? Unfortunately for many people, these connection sites don’t work as well as users expect.

I’ve met many people online in discussion groups and forums, and have enjoyed those conversations. However, the most beneficial of those relationships included meeting them later face-to-face.

While face-to-face networking usually produces greater results than just interacting with someone online, the ease of online networking makes it a terrific technique, too.

In fact, for most people, face-to-face networking is easier to do and has greater (and more lasting) results than online networking. I’m confident that over time we’ll see more people benefit from online networking. But for now the question is how to meet people face-to-face who can become a valuable part of your contact network. This usually means attending events where you are sure to meet like-minded people — people who share your interests and passions.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi details the strategies he uses to meet the people he wants to meet at events and conferences. For face-to-face networking like this, the event calendar sites (such as SureToMeet, of course) can help you find events where you can meet the people you want to meet.

Food for Thought

If you’ve gotten tired of networking because it didn’t seem to work, or if you’re looking for ways to turn your contact network into a valuable resource, pick up a copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone.

It’ll provide the “why” of networking that’ll help you make better use of those “how to” networking books and articles that we’ve all collected.


Cliff Allen is the co-founder of SureToMeet.com. He is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons.

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on ways to improve the quality and value of the relationships that we establish through networking.

John Strande of Business Evolutionist posted Top 50 things to improve relationships that go from little things we can do (e.g., smile more) to great philosophical thoughts (e.g., Relationships are journeys that unfold in magnificent ways).

With 50 tips on the list, you can focus on one each week in the coming year and still have two weeks to reflect on the following year.

Before the Internet came along the business and social term “networking” meant getting together with people at an event, party, or other activity where you could meet people you didn’t already know.

Today, the term “social networking” has become popular with the buzzword creators to include online relationships with people we never meet face-to-face.
Every day each of us has a limited amount of time to grow our network. So, it’s important to decide how to balance our time between online networking and face-to-face networking opportunities.

Ever since discussion groups became popular, individuals have been forming online relationships and sharing information about experiences. Throughout the ’90s I was involved in many online discussion groups, especially those dealing with marketing.
Today, the discussion mailing lists and Web forums have been joined by blogs, project collaboration Web sites, and the social networking connection Web sites.
I’ve met a tremendous number of people online over the past 15 years. What has surprised me is that it’s the people I have also meet face-to-face who have become part of my network of long-term relationships.

Why is it that e-mail and other online communications cannot replace face-to-face interaction for creating strong, long-term relationships?

It seems that as beneficial as online relationships are, sharing information about experiences is not the same as actually sharing the experience face-to-face with another person.

Here’s a summary of the series of posts on the Top 10 Business Networking Tips:

  1. Know Your Objectives
  2. Update Your Business Card
  3. Join Groups
  4. Turn Contacts Into a Network
  5. Make Notes About Each New Contact
  6. Follow-Up With New Contacts
  7. Managing Your Contacts
  8. Remembering To Keep In Contact With Your Contacts
  9. Give Speeches To Groups
  10. Host An Event

Start with #1 and work your way through the list. When you reach #9 and #10 you’ll find that networking has become much easier — and more valuable.

Business cards have been part of business forever. But, the Internet finally has applications that reduce the need for business cards.

Laurie Percival mentioned that while at the SXSW conference she used Contxts, a new SMS-based service that shares business card information with someone by just sending their mobile phone number to an SMS “short code.”

There are many times when you don’t have business cards to give to a new acquaintance. You might be at a conference and run out. Or, you might be at such a casual location that your business cards aren’t handy. Both seem to occur a lot at SXSW!

There are two ways to use Contxts. One way is to send your contact’s mobile phone number to Contxts and they will send your business card information to your contact’s mobile phone. Or, your contact can text your user ID to Contxts at 50500 and retrieve your business card data via SMS.

One of the extra benefits of Contxts is that you can list all of your favorite social media addresses in your profile, which you couldn’t include on a paper business card.

Contxts won’t replace paper business cards, but as they add features it should reduce the keying of new contacts into a contact manager.

January is a great month for updating our networking techniques and getting reenergized about building relationships.

We’ve added a series of posts on the topic Top 10 Business Networking Tips. Instead of a traditional “Top 10” list, these will be somewhat in-depth discussions of each tip with some action items you can take to make networking more beneficial for you and those in your network.

The series will start by suggesting that you ask yourself why you are networking, and will end with a technique for building your personal “brand” that attracts people to you.

 

If you’ve read any books or articles about networking, then you’ve seen the suggestion to come up with what’s called an “elevator speech” pitch. The idea is that you should be able to completely describe what your company sells and why customers buy from you in less than a minute — during an elevator ride.
For a long time I tried to do this. I worked on creating an elevator pitch for networking events, but I found that the elevator pitch monologue just didn’t feel right. After all, it was supposed to be a conversation.

Then, I found the article Kill the Elevator Speech about abandoning the idea of having an elevator pitch. What it said made sense — convey the same information that’s in an elevator speech, but do it step-by-step in a conversation!

I’m not saying that an elevator speech isn’t helpful.

Just writing an elevator pitch is helpful to clarify what your company offers. But, it turns out that an elevator speech is useful only for events where delivering a short pitch is the format for the meeting. For example, the pitch fest meetings where entrepreneurs pitch potential investors on investing in their company in less than a minute is an interesting and entertaining format, but it seldom results in a worthwhile new connection.

Elevator speeches are also valuable at “speed networking” events where the objective is to tell your pitch quickly, or listen to the other person’s pitch, so you can make the most of the few minutes you have — before moving on to the next person’s pitch. However, in the casual, conversational setting of a networking mixer, it’s better to use a slightly different technique.

Here is a simple, one sentence format for introducing your story in a way that’s easy for the other person to remember:
[Company] provides [product or service solution] that helps [type of customer] [benefit].

Here are some examples to show how this template can be used:

  • Apple Computer provides computer-based products that helps people use digital content.
  • Honda provides cars and trucks to both consumers and businesses that are used to go places.
  • The Los Angeles Times provides news and information to people in Southern California that helps them stay in touch with their community.
  • SureToMeet provides meeting registration services that helps event organizers attract more people to events and meetings.

Most of these companies provide more than one product or service. But, people at busy networking events can only remember one thing that your company provides.

Start conversations with your one sentence introduction, and be ready to answer questions about your company as they come up in the conversation.

So, set the elevator speech aside for when an event calls for you to deliver a short pitch. Then, come up with a short way to quickly describe the one thing you want people at networking events to remember that you can provide.

Many business people are reevaluating every expenditure to ensure that every dollar produces value.
This reevaluation includes memberships in associations and other business groups.

Shira Levine wrote a good reminder on six ways to get value from joining an association:  A Good Business Move: Joining Associations

Her main theme is that it takes more than just paying an association’s membership dues in order to get the most value from the membership — it takes an investment of time.

Shira Levine’s  specialties include:

  • Strategy for scaling, engaging, retaining, managing online customer communities for consumer and enterprise
  • Supply-side marketplace community engagement for retail, gig economy, sharing economy
  • Storytelling: unlocking your community’s UGC to tell your brand’s story
  • Reward & retention programs for VIPs
  • Community segmentation & analytics
  • Activation campaigns using content, social media and events
  • Engagement and monetization targeting
  • Translating critical consumer insights into profitable product improvements
  • Customer advocacy & voice of the customer
  • Strategic social media campaigns
  • Growing and managing domestic and global teams
  • All tactics positioned for scaling new communities or communities at scale

Over the last few years there has been tremendous growth in the number of meetings and events in every city and tour in the country.

Some of this growth has come from local chapters of professional association adding special interest group meetings and “satellite” group meetings in outlying areas.

However, the biggest growth in the number of local meetings and events has come from individuals starting their own group or organization. These local groups are holding public festivals in neighborhoods, monthly networking meetings at bars and restaurants, and conducting educational seminars at a wide range of meeting locations.

It’s hard work to create a group and its series of ongoing meetings and events. But the riskiest part is marketing an event. You know who a speaker will be and where you’re going to hold an event, but you don’t know who will attend.

Effective promotion reduces risk

The best way to reduce the risk and uncertainty of holding an event is to use the most effective event promotion techniques possible.

For event organizers who are on Facebook this means sending an e-mail to your contacts. But, for many association chapters and local groups their members aren’t on the typical social networks. And, many organizations hold public events, such as street festivals, where it’s not practical to obtain e-mail addresses from attendees.

With so many more opportunities to attend local events and meeting, it has become harder for an event organizer to attract the number of attendees needed for a successful event. This is creating a special challenge for local chapters of professional associations that typically charge an annual membership fee in addition to a registration fee to attend the monthly meetings.

Increase event promotion to attract more attendees

For an upcoming talk (50 Ways to Promote a Local Event) I looked back at every event I’ve helped promote to identity the 50 best event promotion tips and techniques. The illustration shows the interactive event promotion mind map that I created for event organizers.

The mind map allows an event organizer to turn on or off the promotional techniques that are appropriate for each of their organization’s meeting and special events. A mind map is also a good place to store notes, links to vendors, and create project/task lists.

To cover most types of local events, I divided the “50 Best” list into these sections:

Over the next several weeks I’ll share the detailed event promotion techniques, along with examples, from all of these sections.

As you plan the promotion for your upcoming events, consider using new techniques to increase attendance and improve the experience for your existing members.

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