You might be surprised by the fact that our first side dish is . . .
Networking. Yes! Good old-fashioned, “press-the-flesh” networking!
In spite of all the technology we have at our disposal with websites, social media, iPhones, QR codes, email, Skype . . . blah blah blah . . . NOTHING will ever replace the paramount need for business owners to form personal relationships with other human beings.
That is, IF it’s human beings who make the decision to purchase your product or service. If something other than a human being is purchasing your products or services, well then you can skip the networking part.
Still with me? I thought so!
Your Networking Strategy
As always, never engage in a marketing activity unless you have a strategy behind it. For networking, make it your goal to get face to face with three types of people:
1 – Future Clients
2 – People you can learn from and/or who have achieved what you want to achieve.
3 – People you can partner with (affiliate partners, referral partners)
Find events and organizations that are natural fits for these three categories of people. Then invest your time in becoming a resource for the people you meet. Lead with what you can give, not what you can take, from the people you meet networking.
What it CAN and CANNOT Do for Your Business
Networking is not sales. Networking is not a quick fix for new business. The physical act of networking is the START of a business relationship. Just like dating, you must take the time to cultivate relationships. And, the follow-up is where the rubber meets the road.
How Networking Fits in With Your Marketing Strategy
Design a networking follow-up strategy and SCHEDULE TIME FOR IT. After each event, schedule 15-30 minutes in your calendar to
1 – Write down snippets of conversations you had with people so that you can remember them.
2 – Write down what you promised to do as follow-up. If you promised someone you would call to schedule a coffee meeting, put that call on your to do list along with notes on your conversation with that person.
3 – Add appropriate contacts to your personal database.
4 – Write hand-written “nice to meet you” notes where appropriate for those folks you especially want to build a relationship with.
The key is to take this step immediately after an event. I often do it in my car while everything is still fresh in my mind.
And, as with every marketing activity, lead your networking contacts to your website. Your business card, which you hand out at each networking meeting, should contain an offer for a free giveaway which your prospects and contacts find irresistible. Signing up for this free giveaway will add them to your corporate database.
However, DO NOT sign them up for your database without their permission. Always use a reputable provider to manage your list and distribute your content. (More about this in a future post.)
Should You Outsource Your Networking?
If you are the face of your business, you need to be the one doing the networking. If you have marketing and/or sales people on staff, they can be extremely valuable in doing networking as well, however, as with your web site, make sure you are in control of what events they attend, what their approach is and the relationships that they form. Should they leave your employ, so will your access to their contacts, unless you have made it a point to cultivate those relationships as well.
How to Start Networking
First, if you yourself are uncomfortable in room full of strangers, then learn how to work a room. There is a system to it. There are tactics and strategies which a more introverted individual can learn and master – and in fact MUST master in order to be successful in business.
Second, understand that the key to networking is NOT in how good a glad-hander you are. Quite the opposite in fact. If you “work a room” to perfection, schmooze with everyone you meet, hold scintillating conversations, swap business cards with glee, leave for the evening feeling quite smug and then never follow-up with a single individual from the event, you’ve just wasted your time and money.
The key to networking is in the follow-up! As you make connections with individuals, you will naturally find things in common. Common needs, interests. Seek to fulfill the needs of those you meet.
The Next Step
The next bite in our juicy marketing elephant is another delicious side dish!