The Green Sheet Online Edition
June 08, 2009 • Issue 09:06:01
Trusty tips for terrific networking
In our last article we discussed the importance of a well-developed, 30-second elevator speech as an icebreaker at networking events. The ability to network effectively is not an innate characteristic many of us possess. It must be nurtured.
Networking opportunities are numerous, including chamber of commerce and parent teacher association meetings, after hours socials, and community projects. But even the best events can be plagued by cliquishness, lack of organization and people selling faddish multilevel marketing products and services. So, what do you do?
Our mentor Sal once told us, "If you don't like the rules, create new rules." In networking, we believe in creating new rules. Within the confines of any networking event, there exists a vacuum of leadership. When you can show initiative, be helpful, display intellectual prowess and provide leadership by example, you rise above mediocrity.
What follows are four pointers that will help in any networking environment.
#h4 1. Check yourself
Pointer one starts with your attributes. Here are some qualities worth cultivating:
- Enthusiasm: Perhaps you would rather be at home than be attending this event, but don't let it show through. Excitement in your voice and animated body language are positive actions. If you are feeling apathetic or lethargic and cannot put on your "stage face," do yourself and the networking group a favor by staying home.
- Positive attitude: No one likes a downer. By nature, we look for hope, inspiration and optimism. Significant and numerous studies have shown that attitudes are like yawns. When one person yawns, someone else does soon after. Negative attitudes beget more negativism. When you're in sales, you cannot afford to be around negative people or exhibit anything but the most positive attitude.
- Commitment to service: Serve others before you serve yourself. If you are a seasoned member of a particular networking group and have a visitor, focus on the visitor. Even the best chamber and business events I have attended have deep-rooted cliques. Why? Because we have a comfort level with people we know. It's easier.
When you reach out to a visitor, determine the person's needs first. Hold off on talking about yourself or your business. Connect the visitor to a potential client. As the individual becomes acclimated and integrated with the group, he or she will remember your kindness. One of the best roles at a networking event is that of the greeter. Do this job, and you will come to know all of the regulars, as well as help develop visitors into new members.
- Knowledge of limits: You cannot do it alone. We speak for ourselves, too, in saying we possess personal pride - perhaps too much at times. We all try to build our businesses, feverishly knocking on doors, handing out business cards and making hundreds of telephone calls.
Think about the last time someone asked you for help. What did you say? It is natural to want to help others; people often go out of their way to do so. But, due to pride, it can be very difficult to ask others for help. When you provide knock-your-socks-off customer service, why not ask that customer for assistance, too?
You could use a conversational approach: "Jack, you have mentioned to me many times that you love our service. Like you, I am trying to build my business. I could use your assistance. Would you be willing to share with me one or two like-minded business owners who may be able to use the level of service we are providing you?"
You likely pay dues to networking organizations. If you are not asking the leaders of those organizations for direction and assistance in building your business, you may be shelling out money for nothing.
- Watchfulness: Who are the movers and shakers at the meetings you attend? Who are the givers and takers? People hang out with like-minded people. Successful people are drawn to other successful people. Find out who the up-and-comers are and who is about to fall from grace. Being prepared is to be forewarned.
#h4 2. Build relationships
A question often posed to us is, "How do you network when you don't know anyone there?" The answer? Start anywhere and go everywhere. Just start conversing. Look for common ground. Some excellent opening topics are:
- Education (high school, college)
- Military experience
- Where you grew up
- Family anecdotes
- Mutual friends or acquaintances
- General interests
Stay away from sex, politics and religion. We are headquartered in a "red state," surrounded by independent-minded Texans. We may appease one person but alienate another. Whether you agree or disagree with someone, stay clear of those big three topics.
When you start anywhere and go everywhere, you are learning valuable information about people you meet, such as business or livelihood, family connections, what type of car they drive and where they live. Continue drilling down to find other commonalities or interests. Seek areas of mutual benefit. While some people may never become your clients, they may be able to refer you to clients.
#h4 3. Keep moving up
Networking occurs within finite time frames. A networking session could last 30 minutes or a few hours, depending on the event. Your time is valuable. You are there to nurture relationships and build business. To keep it moving is the meat and potatoes of networking. The key concepts are:
- Don't attempt to sign contracts: Networking is for building contacts and establishing rapport with your peers.
- Don't sell to the room: Nothing puts more pressure on budding relationships than to have someone try to sell products or services to people who do not perceive a need for what is being offered. In networking we are not looking to sell to people, but rather to their sphere of influence. If, in the process, people desire more information about a product and service, they will broach the subject. Don't put pressure on them.
- Don't monopolize someone's time: And don't allow anyone to hog all of your time either. So what about the pushy people we meet at these events? (You know, the ones you hope don't see you.) If you are approached by such a person, be polite. People often don't recognize their own character flaws. If you are bold, you can gently tell a troublesome person in private that he or she comes off a bit pushy. Otherwise, politely excuse yourself and move on.
- Be decisive: Evaluate each situation, make decisions with speed and clarity, and execute on your decisions. To do this, first determine fit. Ask yourself whether a new contact would be a good fit for you either now or in the future. Ask where this relationship is on the sales continuum. Could you sell your product and services now, sometime in the future or never?
When you sense potential in a relationship, do a one-on-one. Meet the person for coffee or lunch. Ask more in-depth questions about the person's business and personal interests. Ask what the individual thinks the next steps should be.
Next, take action. Write brief notes on people's business cards. Indicate how you can help them and whether they can help you. Ask permission to follow up. Then follow up within 24 hours.
#h4 4. Take the stage
No one likes a beggar. It is easy to determine who is experiencing financial, emotional or physical stresses at networking events. Discomfort shows through in a person's attitude, posture and tone of voice. If you work a room while feeling needy or desperate about making sales, your negative emotions will repel those with whom you try to connect.
When we are at a networking event, we consider ourselves to be actors on a stage: lights, camera, action; smile on face, groomed appearance, give before you receive. If we have other pressing issues on our minds, we stay away from the event.
Quid pro quo does not mean, "Buy from me, and I'll buy from you." We have met many networking novices who believe, "I'll process my merchant services through you if you buy my zinc widgets." Every deal must stand on its own merits. Obviously, if it's a good fit, we'd prefer to do business with our customers, but only if it makes financial sense and the requisite quality, as well as other business factors, are present.
Lastly, expand your horizons. Most of us fondly recall best friends from high school and college. But over the years, we grew in different directions. Perhaps we like beef, and they are vegetarians. Maybe we like the ocean, and they like the mountains. We all change and move on. The same goes with networking events.
Everything in life can be replaced - our homes, our cars, even money can be supplanted - everything is expendable except time. Time is our most valuable commodity. When networking, ensure you are getting the value of your time.
Go get 'em
Remember, networking starts with you and your personal characteristics. Be enthusiastic, present a positive attitude and be willing to help others. When meeting someone new, start anywhere and go everywhere. We are not communicating at any given moment to close a deal, only to learn more about the person we are getting to know.
Size up your contacts quickly. Determine if you have found a good fit for you or for your new contact. Write notes on business cards. Finally, networking can be time consuming. Use your time wisely. Keep attending the networking events that have been most productive for you, and eliminate those that have not.
Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin.com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang. Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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