If, like most business owners, you have attended a number of networking events, but received no follow-up business, you may have started wondering if your networking efforts are in vain. Networking is considered to be the best way to get your name out there.
But, if your phone isn’t ringing off the hook after numerous networking events, you may have drawn the conclusion that networking does not work.Here is the lowdown – networking is the building of lasting relationships and what many business owners often do not realise, is that it requires an ongoing and long-term strategy which will form the basis of their business.It also entails a two-pronged approach – a Networking Process or Strategy followed by a Networking Event.Before you attend any Networking Event, you need to build your Networking Strategy first.Here’s how:
- SEPARATE THE EVENT FROM THE PROCESS
A Process is a set of logical steps to get a desired result and with any process, you need to be patient as it takes time. The goal of the networking process is to build lasting business relationships and establish yourself as an expert in your field in order to be top of mind in your industry. Networking is not about keeping score of how many business cards you have collected or how many sales you have made after attending only one event. It takes time to build trust and credibility.
- PREPARATION IS KEY
Do your homework before attending a Networking Event in order to get the maximum return on the time you spend at the event.
- Research the networking organisation you want to attend. Are they aligned with your values and do they compliment your business? Most importantly, do they have a proven track record supporting entrepreneurs effectively and are they committed to helping you grow your business.
- Have a clear goal in mind. What do you want to achieve by attending the event and can this network help you reach that goal?
- Have a look at the guest list (if the networking organisation provides this) and do some research on those who will be attending and ask yourself how they fit into your business marketing plan/strategy. Who do you want to connect with on that list and why?
- Ask yourself, are you going to meet prospective clients, find referral sources or are you attending to find new suppliers?
- ADD VALUE THROUGH YOUR PRESENCE
One of your goals for attending a networking event should be to serve as a resource for others. To do this, you need to keep the following points in mind:
- Do not arrive late. In fact, it is better to arrive early as most guests have not arrived yet and chances are the guest speaker is there already. This is a great opportunity to connect with the speaker as you may not get a chance later.
- Make a positive first impression by giving a firm handshake and smiling when introducing yourself. Always maintain eye contact and be friendly.
- Ensure that you introduce yourself in such a manner that the person will be able to tell someone else EXACTLY what you do when asked.
- At the end of the day, you want to make quality contacts, so remember, it’s not about how many business cards you can collect and add to your database.
- Be a resource for other people with no strings attached. People will remember you for being helpful. Share your knowledge as much as you can and recommend others who have given you good service.
- Leverage off the people that you do know at an event and ask them to introduce you. If you are attending an event for the first time, seek out the event organisers and ask them to introduce you to someone that can assist you with what you currently need in your business.
- OTHER NETWORKING GOLDEN RULES TO REMEMBER
- Be yourself and behave with integrity.
- People do not want to be sold to. Build a lasting business relationship instead and IT WILL benefit you too.
- Show up to as many events as you can – you want to be top of mind when people need someone in your industry. The only way you are going to achieve this is by showing up consistently.
- Do not change your brand message all the time. Be CONSISTENT. At the same time, do not speak about more than one product or service at a time as you could confuse guests.
- Pick which product and service to “punt” at specific networking events – in other words tailor your evaluator pitch to your audience.
- Don’t hand a business card to everyone that you meet. Give them out strategically.
- Remember to do a debriefing after each network event and ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I attend again? If not, why?
- Did I meet my goals?
If you are starting to fee network fatigued, don’t give up. Remember that consistency is the key to success and even more so, is the importance of following up 24 hours after you have made a connection.