There are so many networking opportunities out there. How can you make them the most effective for you? I have become somewhat of a serial networker, which has led not only to some great relationships, but also to a ton of new business. When I started attending networking functions several years ago, it was pretty intimidating, and I would sometimes leave without making any real connections. Now that I have figured out a system that works, I am glad to pass it along.
Start by evaluating the upcoming event based on the topic and who is going to be there. Is the event covering something you are interested in, or are you going based on the hope you will meet some people? Are the people you meet going to become your clients/customers, or are they just names to add to your database? If the attendees are your target market and the event will be covering a topic that you are interested in, chances are that you can make effective connections by attending.
Preparation for the event is key. Start by having enough business cards or any other informational materials ready. Most people you meet probably won't want to carry around your 16-page flyer, but they will take a business card. Next, practice your "elevator speech" - a short pitch about who you are and what you do. Make it interesting, maybe open-ended, so people ask clarifying questions. For example, I often say, "I help people keep more of their own money", because it is a lot more interesting and effective than saying "I sell insurance. Want to buy some?"
At the event, introduce yourself to people and ask them what they do. Focus on being interest-ED instead of interest-ING. People like people who are good listeners and interested in them, and people buy from people they like. Find out how long they have been in the business they are in. Do they like it? Do they come to a lot of networking events? Which ones are their favorites? During the conversation, think about ways you can help them instead of them helping you. Maybe you can refer them to one of your contacts. Or maybe you can refer one of your contacts to the person you are talking to. You are making connections, not sales. Sales come later, when you have established a relationship.
Use business cards strategically:
The business card exchange can be awkward. Some people are clueless - handing out their business cards to everyone they can as quickly as they can. When someone hands me a business card I didn't ask for, it immediately goes into my subconscious recycle bin. If I don't know who the person is or what they do, I have no incentive yet to remember them or follow up. Ask people for their business card if you are truly interested in them - maybe write some notes on the back of it to remind yourself why you found them so interesting. Wait until someone asks for your card as a way to generate more interest.
Remember names and personal details:
Make it a point to learn people's names and what they do. You will probably see a handful of the same people at the next event, especially if this is a recurring function. As somewhat of an introvert, when I go to events my goal is to greet everyone I know or remember meeting and then try to meet a few new people. Usually meeting the new people is easy because they are standing with the people you already know and you will get an introduction. Having that introduction as an "endorsement" also helps the conversation flow better. Keep moving around the event meeting people; don't let yourself latch on to one person for the duration of the event.
When you get home or back to the office, go through your stack of business cards and write down anything that will help you remember people better. In a day or so, give your new contacts a call or an email saying how nice it was to meet them. Include something you remember about the conversation - for instance that you both went to the same school. Remind them briefly what you do. If the contact is someone you think you should get to know better, invite him/her to coffee or lunch for a more in-depth one-on-one networking meeting.
Build one-on-one relationships:
At a one-on-one meeting, remember to again be interest-ED instead of interest-ING. Find out more about your contact and what she does. If you feel a good rapport, ask if you can add the person to your email newsletter list, or find out what networking function she is going to next. Find ways you can work together or use each other's services. Don't look at every new contact as someone to sell to. Not everyone you meet will be a good customer for you, but they certainly know someone who is. Your job is to get the people in your network to sell your product to themselves and the people they know, for you.
Effective networking will lead to better relationships, which leads to more sales. I hope these steps help you as much as they have helped me. See you at the next networking event.
Evaluate the event - go where your people will be
Prepare - have enough cards, know what you will say when people ask you what you do
Create connections - ask questions, find commonality
Learn people's names and personal details - people like it when you take an interest and remember them
Use business cards strategically - don't hand out cards indiscriminately
Follow-up is important - be genuine and reference something you remember about people; don't wait too long
Go deeper in a one-on-one meeting - people work with people they like
Build relationships - they lead to better business
Eric Jans has an insurance agency focused on finding the best health and life insurance, saving people money, and developing long-term relationships. firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-478-7146, http://www.ericjansinsurance.com.
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