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Networking is a challenge for most small business owners; myself included. The Making It Happen article earlier this month on networking brought a few comments and questions so I thought I would tackle the topic again.
Here are a five tips that can help you improve your results from networking efforts:
1. Network smart; develop a core network or your “contact sphere”. People in your core network or contact sphere are people whose businesses are closely aligned with yours. A bookkeeper’s contact sphere would include a CPA, a lawyer, a financial planner, a business consultant, a banker, etc. All of these professions can work with and refer to each other frequently and easily.
Another example; my husband, Gerard, is a jeweler at Porte4 in the Old Port. He is part of a contact sphere he and his network call “the wedding mafia”. The “wedding mafia” includes Gerard, a jeweler, a florist, a photographer, a DJ/entertainer, a skin care esthetician and a hotel representative. See how these professionals can easily refer to each other? Make it a point to develop relationships with those professionals whose targeted clients are also your targeted clients.
2. You have 2 eyes and 1 mouth; use them proportionately. Remember as we discussed in the last article, networking is about farming, not hunting. Don’t attend a networking event with a goal of closing a sale or even booking a meeting. Attend with the goal of meeting a new contact or getting to know one a little better. I heard this recently: "Listening is power and talking is giving it away. Be a power networker." Power is good.
3. Have a networking target. Anticipate who will be attending the networking event and who, among those attending you would like to meet or get to know better. Make it a point to make that happen. Meet them with the intention of learning about their business and their business needs. Look for an opportunity to help them which will also give you a chance to follow up.
4. Use the principal of reciprocation. It’s a funny trait we humans have; we want to give back to those who give to us. It’s not that we don’t like to have people help us, but we tend to keep track and are more likely to say “yes” if we feel we owe somebody something.
For example, Jack knows how much you enjoy the ballet. When he discovers he can’t use his tickets for the upcoming Russian Ballet production of Swan Lake he calls and offers them to you. (You are, of course, ecstatic and gladly accept.) A few weeks later, Jack approaches you with a request for a donation to the annual fund raiser of his favorite charity. Or perhaps Jack wants to meet someone you know and requests an introduction. What do you do? You help him out, don't you? …is there a question?
5. Give it time. It is unrealistic to expect a steady stream of referrals before you get to know the people in your networking group or more appropriately, before they get to know you and your business. When someone gives you a referral they are, in a way, putting their reputation on the line. Most people will want to get to know you and know they can trust you and your work before they’re willing to refer to you consistently.
There are no magic pills or secret handshakes to building your business. If done with a genuine view towards helping others get what they need, word-of-mouth networking will be the most productive and most cost effective marketing investment you will ever make.
Do you have any secret networking tips? Send me an email and let me know. I’ll collect the mail I receive and include it in a future “Making It Happen” MaineToday.com article.
Note: Those of you who write BLOG entries or e-zine articles and wonder who reads your words, I received a nice email from Ivan Misner, the founder and CEO of BNI (Business Networking International) after the previous Making It Happen article on networking. Mr. Misner wrote me to say "Thank you" for the kind words and for supporting BNI. The moral to the story is, “yes people DO read these things and your words can make a difference". It also goes to show you that it's true; the harder you work the luckier you get.
And remember - You have to Be BOLD! It all starts with a vision.
In April, Bold Business Boot Camps, a day-long planning and implementation workshop for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Invest a day and develop a 1-page plan for the next 12-months and your best year yet in business ..and in life. For more information visit www.BoldVisionConsulting.com or send an email to info@BoldVisionConsulting.com.
In late May Bold Vision Business Intensive teleclasses will be launched. The Business Intensive program is a series of 8 60-minute teleclasses that meet once a month on the phone. Participants can sign up for a single class ($39) or for all 8 and receive a 25% discount ($234). Materials and a recording of the calls are included. For more information send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming in June, BoldVision will begin offering the 12-week course “Attract Clients by Becoming Recognized as an Expert in Your Field” for self employed service professionals. For more information email email@example.com.