Do you really know how to network effectively? I see so many business people who just don't do it right. We all know the adage "first impressions count" so here are practical tips to get it right.
Have your tools. Don't attend a function without business cards. Saying to a prospective client who has asked for your card "they're getting printed" just isn't going to impress. When you give someone your card, especially if they have shown some interest in you, ask for their card. Dress appropriately for the function, ensure you have fresh breath, have your 30 second "elevator" speech prepared and practiced and please, don't indulge in the alcohol. You are here to do business, not get sloshed.
Get around the room. Don't make it a race, allowing 59 seconds per person, but don't hang around with one person for 20 minutes either. In a half hour, you should aim to talk to 3 people, having a decent conversation. The objective is not to see as many people as possible and get as many business cards as possible, but rather to make some good connections.
Act like a host - not a guest. Be as helpful as possible and especially introduce people to other people. If you are talking to someone and know someone else, introduce them to the group. If you see someone standing alone, invite them to talk to the group. Introduce yourself, get their name and introduce them to the group. A great networker is someone who makes others feel comfortable, is pleasant, polite and likeable.
Listen and ask questions. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth; use them proportionally. Ask questions and listen to the answers and then you can talk about your business, even showing how you can help their business from what you have just learnt. It's not about inundating them with your whole sales spiel, but doing lots of listening. You will learn a lot which may help you later in talking business with them.
Do NOT try to close the deal. Too often people think networking is about closing the sale today. They are sooo far off the mark! Networking is about building relationships and that takes time, getting to know the person and their business (and allowing them the time to learn about you too). Making good alliances can take months and months to develop, but when you do, good alliances can be very fruitful - so don't go into "sales" mode the second you meet someone.
Give is Gain. This is a BNI (Business Network International) concept but it's very true. What goes around, comes around. If you can help other people, they are going to remember you (favourably) and might help you out too, or even choose to give you their business. You might know an excellent marketer, and you are talking to someone who has said "my marketing just isn't working". Ask that person if they would like to be connected to a great marketer you personally know? If so, that day, email both the referee and the marketer giving each details of the other. Both will appreciate your good deed.
Keep Notes. On all business cards I collect, I jot down where I met the person, date and a few brief points about them. If it's one of those glossy cards, use a whiteout pen to make a strip for you to write on. You may then choose to add the cards to a database but remember, if you are planning on emailing (spamming) them, you should ask permission or have an "opt out" facility.
Follow Up. If you met someone who could be possibly a good contact for you, follow up in a day or two (at most) to organise a coffee to catch up. This allows you time (about 1 hour) for you both to really talk about each of your businesses and how you could help each other. Keep in touch with these people and if you do promise to do something (such as send some info) be sure to do so very promptly.
Good networking can generate massive business for some of you, so be sure to do it effectively. And remember, you should be tracking your leads so every time a prospective new client or customer contacts you, ask them "so how did you hear about me?". Write this down and track the statistics - it will tell you where the leads are coming from and what is working or not. And if someone you networked with send you this lead, be absolutely sure to promptly personally thank them, with as little as a personal hand written note and a scratchy, or a nice gift or gift voucher. Remember point # 6 - give is gain!
Donna Stone is the founder of the multi award winning Stone Consulting and an experienced Business Coach with 30 years' experience helping businesses succeed. She is a three times published author, speaker and advocate of business in the Redlands. Learn more at www.donna-stone.com.au.
© Donna Stone, 2015
© Donna Stone, 2010