Tips for networking success
Networking skills are essential to being successful in sales, lead-generation, establishing partnerships, recruitment and many other aspects of a flourishing business. Whether you are a natural communicator or a wallflower, you could benefit from creating a plan of action to expand your professional circle.
First, identify the consumer or professional groups with whom you want to build business relationships with and research where they congregate. If you are selling to new parents, for instance, you could seek out local community groups or events. Are there on-line or virtual communities that you could join? Remember, if these are social or “social networking” forums, hard selling would not likely be appreciated. However, such gatherings can be great places to introduce your business to potential customers and gauge their interest in your products or services.
Selling opportunities are more acceptable at trade shows and exhibitions. These are great places for you to meet with targeted professional and specialist groups. However, remember that these are very competitive events so considerable advance preparation is strongly recommended, including: business cards, brochures, a sales presentation and possibly a display booth. As well as a detailed presentation, make sure you have an “elevator pitch,” a brief soundbite about what you do and what you can offer.
Collecting leads is your key goal, so make sure to get details for everyone you meet – and keep a log of their particular interests or questions. Use incentives to collect business cards and contact details, such as free samples or a contest offering your services as a prize.
Whether you are networking at a social or professional engagement, you want to be at the top of people’s minds when it comes to your business value proposition. Give them something to remember you by, a business card or a branded item. Then, after you’ve established relationships, keep them going. For major individual customers, send personal e-mails – letting them know you remember details of their needs – and arrange targeted one-on-one meetings. For groups, consider setting up a regular channel of communication: a direct-mail list, e-mail newsletter, a Twitter or Facebook feed. Keep your customers aware of what your business is doing, and collect their feedback on products or services that they may be interested in.
Finally, while we have been discussing how to cultivate new contacts, do not forget to build on those you already have. Have you kept in touch with former colleagues or classmates who may be interested in your business? How about family members? Your neighbors? Your doctor or dentist? Keep people you know on a casual, friendly or familial basis up-to-date about your enterprise. This shouldn’t be approached as a selling activity, but it is a means of getting the word out and could lead to business with people you may be connected to.
Do you have any networking or marketing tips for fellow entrepreneurs? Share them in the comments.