By Jason Felts
Advanced Merchant Services Inc.
Do you become anxious at the mention of networking at business functions? If you answered yes, you are not alone. Some sales professionals excel at networking. Others get a bit uncomfortable when it's time to strike up conversations with strangers at business mixers, so they struggle to achieve the number of leads or contacts they desire.
Many others question whether they are using their networking time to maximum effect.
No matter what your situation is, an enterprising spirit can take your networking to new heights.
An enterprising person is one who comes across a pile of scrap metal and sees the makings of a wonderful sculpture. He or she drives through a decrepit part of town and envisions a new housing development. An enterprising person sees opportunity in all areas of life.
To be enterprising is to keep your eyes open and your mind active wherever you are - including networking events. It's to be skilled, confident, creative and disciplined enough to seize opportunities - regardless of the economy or any anxiety you many feel.
A person with an enterprising attitude believes it makes sense to conduct research, be resourceful and do everything possible to prepare for the great future to come. And then take action.
Often, sales managers encourage their sales teams to attend chamber of commerce meetings, Rotary clubs, BNI groups and other networking opportunities. However, very rarely do they provide the tools needed to excel in these environments. This article should help fill the gap and build your confidence for the next time you walk into a networking opportunity.
Networking doesn't have to be traumatic, scary or a waste of time. When done properly, it can truly make a difference in the amount of business your company generates. With the right approach, you can use it to build a wealth of resources and contacts that will help make your business very successful.
Networking is a form of relationship building. As businesses employ new technologies and grow in different avenues, you, as payment professionals, are challenged to be increasingly creative.
You need to find unique ways of connecting with potential prospects, customers and clients. You should also find witty ways of connecting with business counterparts and learn how to make a great first impression.
Being good in your profession or industry is not good enough. As a professional, you should strive to be excellent in your profession and approach networking as a business art to be mastered.
But how can you be memorable when meeting others at networking events? How can you find the best ways to build significant relationships for business and social success? How can you use your unique personality and skill set to brand yourself?
While I always extol the benefits of volunteering to speak at events whenever possible, this article is for traditional networking activities at mixers. Following are 12 tips you can use to expand you network and have fun while making the most of your time.
2. Use the proper networking tools. These include a name badge, informative business cards, small brochures or flyers about your business, and a small calendar or personal digital assistant so you can schedule appointments. Always, always exchange business cards.
3. Set an attainable goal for the number of people you'll meet. Identify a reachable goal based on the nature of the event and the number of attendees. If you feel inspired, set a goal to meet 15 to 20 people. Make sure you get a card for everyone you meet, and don't leave until you've met your goal.
4. Become a host, not a guest. A host is expected to assist others; a guest sits back and relaxes. Volunteer to help greet or serve people. If you notice visitors sitting alone, introduce yourself and ask if they would like to meet others. Act as a conduit. The more you assist others, the more you get your own name out there.
5. Share a clean, funny joke. A great way to break the ice and have fun is to tell a good joke. You can share an interesting experience that is clean, uncontroversial and not invasive of anyone's privacy. Always make sure jokes are tasteful and have good punch lines. They should be inoffensive, lighthearted, uncomplicated, witty and clever.
It is simple to create jokes - even from experiences that aren't particularly funny. But it will probably take practice. Review all your jokes with family and friends before debuting them at networking events.
6. Give referrals whenever possible. The best networkers believe in a "givers gain" philosophy: If I help you, you'll help me and we'll both do better as a result. This means if you don't genuinely attempt to help the people you meet, you are not networking effectively. If you can't give people bona fide referrals, offer information that might be of interest to them (such as details about an upcoming event).
7. Listen, and ask great questions. Remember, a good networker has two ears and one mouth and uses them proportionately. After you've learned what another person does, tell your new acquaintance what you do. Be specific but brief. Don't assume the person knows about your business.
8. Manage your time efficiently. If your goal is to meet a given number of people, be careful not to spend too much time with any one person. Spend 10 minutes or less with each person you meet, and don't linger with friends or associates. When you meet someone interesting with whom you'd like to speak further, set up an appointment for a later date.
9. Write notes on the backs of business cards. Record anything you think may be useful in remembering each person you meet. This will come in handy when you follow up on each contact.
10. Share a funny story. Stories are great ways to encourage conversation and questions on the personal and social side. They should relate to business or the subject of the conversation you're having at the moment. You can discuss your family, friends, co-workers or colleagues. Each story should include a lesson learned.
Before each event you attend, evaluate the stories you might like to tell. Practice your stories; make them concise and meaningful. Your business counterparts will remember both your tales and the quality of your delivery.
11. Ask for appointments; don't try to close. Networking events are not meant to be vehicles for closing deals or hitting on business people to buy your services on the spot. Networking is about developing relationships with other professionals. Meeting people at events should be the beginning of the sales process, not the end.
At the same time, there's nothing wrong with asking for an appointment. Have your calendar ready, and schedule appointments at mixers you attend. Leave the selling for subsequent appointments. This practice will help ensure your success.
12. Follow up. You can obey the previous 11 suggestions religiously, but if you don't follow up effectively, you will have wasted your time. When you return to your office from an event, drop a card or note, telephone, or send an e-mail to each person you met. And be sure to fulfill any promises you made.
Keep in mind that enterprising people always see the future in the present. They always find a way to take advantage of a situation, not be burdened by it. And enterprising people aren't lazy.
They don't wait for opportunities to come to them, they go after opportunities. Enterprise means always finding a way to keep yourself actively working toward your ambition.
Also, you need creativity to see what's out there and to shape it to your advantage. You need creativity to look at the world in a new way, to take a different approach - to actually be different.
Hand-in-hand with creativity goes courage. You must have courage to act on your creativity, courage to stand alone if you have to and courage to choose activity over inactivity.
And finally, being enterprising doesn't just relate to making money. It also means feeling good enough about yourself to seek advantages and opportunities that will make a difference in your future. By doing so, you will increase your confidence, your courage, your creativity and your self-worth - your enterprising nature.
So, make it a goal in 2009 to become a consummate networker with an enterprising spirit.
Jason A. Felts is the founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida-based Advanced Merchant Services Inc., a registered ISO/MSP with HSBC Bank. From its onset, AMS has placed top priority on supporting and servicing its sales partners. The company launched ISOPro Motion, its private-label training program, to provide state-of-the-art sales tools and actively promote the success and long-term development of its partners. For more information, visit www.amspartner.com, call 888-355-VISA (8472), ext. 211, or e-mail Felts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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