Networking, when done correctly, is fun and profitable. I know from my experience, as well as from the experience of my colleagues and clients, that networking is a great way to meet new friends and make valuable connections for my business, which often result in new clients. After all, we all know that people do business with people they know, like and trust.
I know this, and as I just mentioned, many of my colleagues and clients know this, but every once in a while, I meet a few people who insist that networking doesn’t work for them. After asking just a couple of questions, the reasons why networking doesn’t work for them become obvious: They’re not following the rules.
Never heard of the networking rules? Here are a few I’ve picked up in workshops and various reading. Oh, and a few from that Special-Ed school…you know the one: ‘Hard Knocks”? So, here you go:
1. Attend meetings or events where your ideal clients gather. This sounds like a no-brainer, but until you’re very clear about whom you serve, it will be very tough to meet your clients. Merely attending random events with the intent of converting everyone you meet into clients just doesn’t work, so you need to figure out where your clients are gathering, and meet them there.
2 . Attend meetings or events where your colleagues gather. Belonging to a trade or industry association is valuable for the support, community and educational aspects, and the connections you can make there will benefit you as well. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a good network among other REALTORS®!
3. Share a ride but not the whole evening with your friends. I’m all for car-pooling, but you really need to be on your own at meetings when you intend to network. You look more approachable when you’re alone, and you have more autonomy as well.
4. Set goals for the event. I never attend a networking meeting without specific goals, and neither should you. My default goal is to introduce myself to at least five people in the room, which is a great goal for almost anyone. If you’re feeling self-conscious or shy, look around to see if there are any other people standing alone, and introduce yourself to them. Don’t worry about getting trapped in a conversation you can’t escape; nobody is looking for a new best friend. As a matter of fact, most of the people are there for the same reasons you are.
5. Wear a nametag on your right shoulder. A nametag identifies you (handy when you’re trying to meet people), and putting it on your right shoulder allows right-handed people to see it clearly when you extend your arm for a handshake. If you wear your nametag on your belt, or on a lanyard on your chest, people’s eyes may stray to places that aren’t appropriate for public inspection, so do yourself (and the people you meet) a favor, and put your nametag in an easy-to-see-and-read spot.
6. Be prepared to introduce yourself well. There are usually two opportunities to introduce yourself at a networking function: As you wander around the room meeting people casually, and again when the group does the round robin of introductions. My apologies if this sounds remedial, but you must be prepared to say your name, your company name or your professional title, and your ‘Sound Bite’. Your ‘Sound Bite’ is a seven- to nine-word phrase that distills the essence of your value to a particular market.
Sadly, I’ve met too many people who can barely spit out their names, let alone their company names or professional titles. If you’re not comfortable using your ‘Sound Bite’ during casual encounters, here’s a tip: Greet the person, say your name, and ask what he or she does. Example (this is best when you can read the person’s name off her name tag): “Hi Nancy, I’m Ronnie. What do you do?” The obvious path for this conversation to take is for the other person to tell you what she does, and then ask you what you do.
7. Have a great answer to the “what do you do?” question. This is the perfect time to haul out your ‘Sound Bite’. When anyone asks me that question, I say, “I help small businesses attract more clients.” Talk about impact! That opens up the conversation immediately, and gives anyone who meets me a good idea of what I do.
8. Be prepared with a great follow-up to your ‘Sound Bite’. If you are lucky enough to hear those three little words (“tell me more!”) as a response to your ‘Sound Bite’, you’ve got up to 30 seconds to share more information about your work and yourself. Bear in mind that 30 seconds is a long time in boredom years, so be prepared with a succinct, interesting response that invites even more interest. (For some hints about what to say after your ‘Sound Bite’, see my web site for the article of the same name.)
9. Take advantage of the visibility opportunities. Many groups offer places to display marketing materials, or even allow members to make short spotlight presentations. Two words of advice: Do it! This visibility will help people get to know you, and possibly remember you when the need for the service you provide arises.
10. Follow up with everyone you meet. Send a personal note telling every person you met that it was nice to meet him or her. If you met anyone really interesting, consider adding that person to your Group 100 list. You’ll be remembered, and will be closer to having a real relationship with those people, who may then start referring prospective clients to you.
11. Don’t assume that just because one person isn’t a potential client for you, that the relationship has no value. The plain truth is that every client you’ve ever wanted (yes, including heads of state and celebrities) is a mere six people away from you. You won’t find your referral partners quickly and easily if you expect to trip over them at a Rotary meeting holding a sign that says, “I know many of your potential clients,” though. What you will find at trade and association meetings are people who know other people, who know even more people, who might be great clients for you. But those great clients won’t be able to find you if you don’t make some connections first.
Like all rules, these can be bent, broken or ignored all together when the time and circumstances are right, but if you’re still a rookie Networker, I wouldn’t risk it. Just follow these simple rules and you’ll find that the time you invest in networking is time well spent.
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