There has been a paradigm change in the business world over the last few years moving away from printed marketing to digital and personal marketing. Digital marketing through website presence and email campaigns are attractive to many larger businesses because of their ability to get in front of a very large audience on the local, regional, national and international level. For small local businesses, however, these concepts might not be cost
effective for a more localized market. In such cases there is a better chance for success through network. Networking can take many forms but the most recognized is where a business owner attends an event socializing with other
business people and during their conversation business cards are exchanged with an opportunity for follow-up later.
As described above networking sounds pretty easy, but in order to be successful a business person should be prepared so that they can take advantage of opportunities as they occur. You may be thinking, “What is there to prepare for? You just stated that networking is socializing and handing out business cards.” Actually, networking is more complicated than just socializing but from outward appearances it does look like a casual conversation at a party.
Okay, so how do you prepare? Remember that I mentioned that networking is a form of marketing so you must be able to concisely define your business. In networking it is called the elevator speech assuming that you will
only be able to hold the attention of the person you are talking to the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator to their destination floor. Take time to write out your speech and fine tune it until you can tell your whole story within one minute. Once you’ve done that you will need to practice it until you can deliver it as a part of your conversation without having the speech appearing to be “canned”.
You will also need to know who your customer is. However, because you are hoping to get qualified referrals you will need to narrow your customer down to the one type of customer most closely aligned to your product or ervice. For example, I’m in the real estate business so while I could say that everyone is a potential customer that would be too broad a statement and would make it hard for someone else to provide me with a high quality lead. But if I said that my potential customer was a home owner who had been living in their home for more than three years I’d have a better chance of getting a qualified referral since home owners on average purchase a new home every three years.
It is also important to listen to what the other person is saying. Find out what they do and who their ideal customer is so that you might be able to provide them with a referral. The best way to grow your business through networking is to help someone else grow theirs. If you provide someone with a strong lead and they do a deal I can guarantee that person will always remember you and try to return the favor. When networking remember that you are not trying to sell to the person you are talking to, you are trying to build a relationship to cooperatively exchange leads and ideas.
Lastly, select the events you will network at wisely. I highly doubt I’d get many referrals if I was networking for leads at my local Board of Realtor monthly meeting. Certainly I can build business relationships at such an event and may get some new ideas I wouldn’t expect another agent to very often provide me with a referral even though it does occur on occasion. It is best to choose events that have business people from a broad cross-section of the community. Local Chamber of Commerce meetings are a good example but there are also entrepreneurs who sponsor networking events in order to attract new business leads. Regardless of what type of events you participate in, make it fun. Challenge yourself by setting a goal as to the number of business cards your will collect at an event. Make it a goal to meet someone at the event and introduce them to someone else you’ve met at the event who will benefit from the introduction. Find someone who business is something new or different.