We’ve all heard it— networking is the
way to build your business. For many people, even experienced entrepreneurs, this is much easier said than done. Few of us really feel confident in a room full of strangers –whether the setting is a trade fair, a cocktail reception or a sales conference. If you are a small business owner, you are the best (most motivated) person to represent your firm. Remember a few critical points and your misgivings about networking will begin to retreat.
- First and foremost, don’t think of a “networking opportunity” in terms of what you can get (sales leads, new business etc.) but rather to see what (ideas, solutions, introductions) you can bring to your fellow attendees. If “hard sell” makes you uncomfortable, take heart. Self-serving conversation makes almost everyone in earshot feel ill at ease, too.
- Don’t launch into a forced or rehearsed sales pitch. Avoid heavy handed “selling” of your products or services. Put the emphasis on listening to the individuals you encounter rather than talking. Encourage those you meet to talk about themselves, their business interests and challenges. Allow the conversation to develop. If there is some way you might be of service to your new acquaintances, this approach allows you to introduce your business products in a more natural and much less pressured manner.
- If striking up a conversation is not easy for you, imagine you are a reporter. Ask your new acquaintances open-ended questions—e.g. “Tell me a bit about your company—have you been in business a long time?” “What are you enjoying most about the conference?”; “Which speaker (booth) has made the biggest impression on you –why?”
- Figure out what makes your firm or your products different or special, and be able to communicate your special niche in a way that helps people remember you.
- Obvious, but worth reiterating, take enough business cards. Well in advance, make sure your business cards provide all relevant information (including your web site address), and that they look smart, up-to-date and business-like. Get help, if you need it, to make sure your card stock, font and design elements convey the right impression.
- The value of networking extends beyond collecting a fist-full of business cards. Now you have contact information, what do you plan to do with it? Depending upon the nature of the contact, there’s lots you might do. Whatever the circumstances, unless you took the card as a courtesy only, do something! Make the communication appropriate and relevant to the individual’s specific interests, hobbies, etc. Avoid barraging (spamming) new contacts with too many emails. Be selective in what you send and how often. Here are a few ideas:
- Short personal follow-up note –perhaps with some literature from your company.
- Forward a newsy article that your new contact might appreciate (business-related only, no jokes or political commentary).
- Add your new contact to your distribution list for news releases or company information bulletins.
- Keep your eyes open for any news in trade or professional journals about your contacts (promotions, new products, etc.) and drop a personal note of congratulation.
Successful networking means listening more than talking, setting aside your personal agenda (sales leads, new orders), and letting your prospective new clients take center stage.