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Successful networking requires genuine effort and a plan of action. I know this from first-hand experience as I have grown my business. If your business is not where you want it to be and you are not attending multiple networking events (at the very least one a week) – invest some time in getting out there in your community. Referrals and networking are our two greatest client sources – so if you are avoiding networking then you are trying to run a marathon with a broken leg!
Tip #1. Network Genuinely: When attempting to build trust, credibility and business relationships, you need to present yourself in a genuine light. You should only attend networking events if you genuinely wish to help others. If you attend networking events or situations with the intention to sell, you will come off as self-serving and fail to connect with other attendees, wasting your time and theirs in the process.
Tip #2. Define Your Goals: Do not arbitrarily select a networking event. Before you go anywhere, take a moment to figure out what you are hoping to accomplish through networking. Different networking events have different focuses, like education or database growth. Knowing what aligns with your goals is the key to getting the most out of networking. Remember networking is about finding prospective clients and referral sources. Everyone knows someone who … If you are at a networking event it is likely the people in the room are out in your community and know a lot of people.
Tip #3. Visit Multiple Groups: Like when buying a car, settling on the first networking group you stumble across is usually unwise. There are networking opportunities everywhere. Checkout chamber events, charity events, official networking groups, industry groups, service organizations, and any other place you can think of. In Maine, there aren’t 6 degrees of separation – it is more like two or three. If you attend enough groups, you will meet the people you need to make your business a success. When creating your 90 day plan (if you have strong goals to increase your client numbers) make sure you put “Attend a new networking event every week” that way you will meet an entirely new group of people in a truly leveraged way. Once you find a networking group that works for you, give it your full attention.
Tip #4. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Successful networking hinges upon your ability to ask the people you interact with a series of open-ended questions, as opposed to simple yes/no questions. If you rely solely on yes/no questions, your networking efforts will fail to encourage any sort of meaningful dialogue. Furthermore, an open-ended question conveys more sincere interest in someone. Questions like “How is the recent uptick in the economy helping you?” is a great question to ask once rapport is made.
Tip # 5 – Make sure you exchange cards. I always laugh when I encounter people out networking who don’t bring cards. Some of them think they are cleverly hiding their identity to avoid being “sold to” after the event. I don’t know who they are kidding – with today’s internet tools, anyone who wants to find you will have absolutely no difficulty. Given how card passing is almost as socially important as the handshake, passing cards is really more a sign of respect and interest. Be interested and be interesting. After speaking with someone for a few minutes, hand them your card and expect them to reciprocate.
Tip #6. Describe your business in terms of benefits: In order to maximize your networking efforts, you must have a clear understanding of what makes youinteresting. “I guide business owners to increased profits and greater happiness” is a much better introduction than “I am a business coach.” When in introduce myself in terms of benefits, nearly everyone is curious enough to say “Huh? How do you do that?” Then we can have a conversation. So don’t be boring, be interesting and beneficial.
Tip #7. Follow-up and help them: After successfully connecting with someone - you need to follow-up with them and be helpful. You can suggest a resource that might be interesting to them based on your conversation, you can make an introduction that would help them, you can send them relevant information, or you can ask them a question about how you can help them further. Whatever you do, try to become a person of value for them. Building trust and credibility takes time.