The heart of any business is the connection you have with other businesses and individuals you can call on to help meet your needs. Networking, any activity designed to create, maintain, and use interpersonal connections, is an essential business skill. But not all entrepreneurs take the time to truly master it. However, without a solid understanding of how to network effectively and efficiently, no business can establish the vital connections it needs to survive and thrive in today’s super-connected economy. Here are some tips you can use to increase the success of your network and your business.
Go with a goal. One of the first and most common mistakes people make when entering a networking situation (planned or not) is not having a firm goal in mind. Are you looking to acquire new prospects, meet colleagues for potential collaborations, create a mutual referral association, build name recognition for yourself and your business, find financing, or simply “shop” for exciting news and trends you can use? If you haven’t taken the time to figure out what your goals are for the next few games, you’ll have a hard time meeting them.
Of course, most businesses have a number of different needs, but in many cases any networking opportunity is unlikely to deliver more than one or two types of results, depending on the situation at hand. For example, if you attend an event comprised primarily of other people in your industry or trade, it’s unlikely you’ll meet prospects, as they’ll all be vendors like you, and you’re also unlikely to find referral partners, as nearly all of them will. . be a direct competitor. So if your primary needs are clients and referrals, such events, while not a waste of time, might not be their best use. On the other hand, if you are desperately looking for a partner to expand with or are looking to discover the latest and greatest technology in the field to offer to your customer base, then you are definitely in the right place.
Honest your message. When someone asks what you do, can you clearly and concisely articulate not only your business but also the benefit to them? How about your 15-second “elevator pitch” or intro: is it crisp, direct, and compelling, or do people’s eyes glaze over before you get to the end? This is not the time to give a dry and deadly boring job description. Save that for your resume. When someone asks about you and your business, you are giving them a golden, but brief, opportunity to blow their minds and persuade them that you are the best thing that has happened to them since sliced bread. Make sure you do.
Important: leave your sales pitch at home! Networking is networking, and sales is sales. Confuse the two and you will lose on both. No one wants to be sold to, especially when you’re clearly not in a sales environment. And remember that anyone trying to work a networking event under the “three-foot rule” (anyone within three feet is an opportunity to make a sale) is likely to find others unwilling to approach it. within three feet of them in a very short period. of time.
Check your team. Make sure you have everything you need to make a great impression. Are your business cards or other brochures up to date and as professional looking as possible? If it’s a planned event, do you know who’s coming and have you isolated a few people you definitely want to make sure you meet, or are you going blind and resigned to improvising?
And don’t forget to check the time, date and location. Nothing is more irritating than showing up only to find out you’re too early, too late, or can’t find a parking space less than a quarter mile away.
Educate your audience. Are you looking for a collaborative partner for a project? Then, make sure everyone knows what the project is and what kind of partner you’re looking for (and the general parameters of the partnership they’ll be investing their time in). If you’re looking for referrals, do your potential referral sources know what constitutes a good referral for you? It is a waste of time and a drain on your referrer’s goodwill and reputation if you reject or do a poor job for everyone who refers to you because the referrals were inappropriate. Similarly, a well-educated referral source might end up sending you fewer referrals, but they are much more likely to be quality leads that have a high probability of becoming solid customers.
On the other hand, if you are prospecting directly, do your prospects know that you are the answer to their prayers and why? Remember that all prospects are tuned in to WII-FM – What’s In It For Me – and unless you make sure they know why they should consider working with you, they won’t.
Go ahead. The most important part of networking happens after the initial contact. The best impression, the most agile laser marketing message, and the deepest desire to work together will vanish if they don’t hear from you in a timely manner, or worse, never hear from you. No matter who said what about calling whom, always follow up quickly and in a way designed to strengthen the relationship and add value for the other person.
A simple follow-up email may be fine for old contacts touching base, but for a new contact who can provide you with crucial financing or top referrals, or an attractive prospect eager to clear your warehouse of your prime merchandise, your marketing needs follow-through have all the finesse, power and grace of a figure skater’s best jump, and all the gripping power of a solid landing.
There are three keys to effective follow-up:
- Reinforce the original intention of the contact. Reference your original conversation, restating key points and reaffirming agreements that were made or hinted at. Fulfill any promises you’ve made to deliver information, provide samples, start a meeting, submit an application, whatever, before the follow-up call, unless time constraints or lead times make it impossible.
- It carries the scent of enthusiasm without the stench of despair. Follow up as promptly and regularly or as often as circumstances warrant, but don’t become a stalker or pest. And if you can find a way to add value to the relationship through your skills, influence, position, or connections, by all means offer to do so, but don’t cross the line from generous partner to sycophantic. And if the other person makes it clear that they are not interested, move on. “Kicking and screaming” is not an acceptable level of net participation, and neither is “punched into submission.”
- Includes the seeds for the next contact. Don’t get sucked into the dead end of tracking. Unless it is clear that an additional relationship is not warranted or desired, make sure there is some agreement on the next step or arrangement to continue the conversation. Make that phone call and, in the end, schedule a lunch date in a few weeks. At lunch, offer to send an important report or offer to broker a desirable presentation to someone higher up the food chain, and so on. Make sure you never leave the table without an invitation to return to your seat at a later date.
Like a good golf swing or a dazzling presentation, effective networking boils down to three essential stages of activity: preparation, delivery, and follow-up. And just like an electrical circuit with a short or an interruption, a failure at any of these points stops the flow of connective energy that gives life, the healthy and continuously renewed cycle that your business requires to maintain a strong and stable growth potential. . resilience and success.
Mastering the art of effective networking, like any other business activity, requires time, dedication, and attention. But in the end, the dividends it pays are well worth the time it took to grow them. Take the time to master these five tips and you will be amply rewarded with the wonderful fruits of your networking.