Business networking meetings can be a superb way to exchange leads and meet potential customers, and many business people have struck gold while networking. Lasting human connections can be made.
On the other hand, some people perceive networking in a negative light, as a waste of time and resources, like trying to pick up corn after a bunch of chickens.
It doesn’t have to be if you pick the right groups, are strategic, and If you have thought about attending networking events, here are four suggestions for selecting and effectively utilizing networking to open personal and professional doors.
1. How to Select a Business Network to Join
Networks are different. Some create casual social contacts, some are more formal and some are service-oriented. Seeking new clients for financial advisement is very different from soliciting businesses to contribute to a breast cancer run. What kind of group is it? Is it heavy on financial planners? Are services replicated within that one group?
Certain industries and professions are over-represented within network groups, thus some must be under-represented too, and this can be your opening. Additionally, get answers to some specific questions about the group. How long has it been in existence? How many members are there? What professional affiliations, domestic and international, does it have? How are meetings structured? How is an agenda created? What is the cost of membership? What do members say? Getting testimonials is important. Visit as many as you can and get answers.
2. What to Do While At Networking Events
Almost all network gatherings will have an informal social time prior to a presentation, or some kind of icebreaker like elevator pitches that you should prepare for. To make the most of this “meet and greet,” scan the guest list where possible. Look for people you know and also anyone you’d like to meet.
When conversing, it is urgent to show interest in what’s going on in the other person’s business. This is the only way to gain clients, by getting to know their businesses and the specific problems they face on a daily basis. How else can you design solutions without an intimate knowledge of what they need?
3. Don’t Try to Talk to Everyone, But Make a Positive Impression
Even if you don’t anticipate a particular person becoming a client, or vice versa, you never know when someone may be asked for a referral. If you only talk about yourself and show no interest in being of value to other people, they probably will be unlikely to refer you to their friends and colleagues who may be good prospects for you.
It is also best to minimize conversations about family and health problems. While these are huge components of our lives, these conversations could eat up the time you are there. Your goal is to go home with a few business cards, not to work the room and collect cards like poker chips. Ideally, you will meet at least one person who you will want to get to know better for a “one-to one” at a later time. Come up with a system for dealing with the cards you receive. There are a variety of smartphone apps that allow you to photograph business cards, which are then stored in a searchable archive. No more stacks of cards to sift through!
4. Maximizing the One-to-One
At or after networking meetings, try to arrange meetings with others you are interested in. Within ten days is best. The local coffee shop is a safe and pleasant setting, but you may prefer other venues. This one-to-one is where you build trust with the person and share and receive more information about your businesses.
Think of the process as “know, like and trust.” Let them tell their story first so that you can look at their style. Again, search out common ground upon which you share business problems and potential solutions. Similarly avoid long discussions of children, spouses and health problems. This is best left to other settings other than this valuable one-to-one time. If the other person delves into these areas, gently steer the conversation back to the common ground of your businesses. You do not have to make something happen during this meeting, but if you sense the other person is interested in learning more, you can move to the next step.
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