Networking is one of those things you either love or hate: Throw together a bunch of professionals in a room, all looking for new business and partnerships, and it can seem like a pool of sharks, or a great gathering of like-minded individuals interested in helping one another out. Repeat these experiences dozens of times, as I have in the last year and a half, and you'll have a far better idea of what works for you and your business.
Some tips to further your networking:
- Keep up-to-date. My networking event calendar [yep, personal plug!] is always fresh & you'll never be without something to do.
- Network both online and off. Check out online systems such as LinkedIn and Twitter and and try to make local and national connections. Don't hit every person with a sales pitch, but rather read each profile and suggest relevant assistance with his or her needs.
- The rule of three. I can't recall where I heard it, but I've come to believe in variety. Visit at least two networking events in your industry, two in your ideal customer's industries, and two that have nothing to do with your business. The result is a variety of people who can suggest different avenues for you, and you can narrow it down to the associations that work best for you.
- Get involved. Once you join an association, be sure to join committees and take an active role. This pro bono work can expand your network and make you an indispensable member.
- Have a pitch in mind. If you can, listen to the other person's pitch, then tailor your elevator pitch to their business. Spend time to get to know them and their needs. If you can nail down what you do in a short sentence or two, you'll keep their attention longer and be easier to refer.
- Don't discount anyone. If someone is not a perfect prospect but seems like a great person, try to keep talking to them. You never know whom they know, and whom they can refer to you. It also pays to always be nice and not dismissive—your reputation often precedes you.
- Create goals. Once you enter an event, it can be a free-for-all or a carefully targeted evening where you walk away with a number of good prospects and possible partners. To create the latter situation, set a goal of a specific number of people you will talk to, and a smaller number of qualified prospects you'll get before you leave. As you better your pitch, you'll walk away more often happy with an event.
- Follow up. It seems like a no-brainer, but following up with those you've met with an email, written note or call is simply good manners, and a lot of people don't even bother.
- Offer assistance. Especially for new entrepreneurs and those looking for additional help, share your network of reliable contacts and you'll soon become a knowledgeable source. [This is coming to Gizmo's web site soon!] shows that you are interested in keeping in touch.
- Email your contacts on a regular basis. Once someone has become a contact, keep up with him or her. It doesn't matter if you have a relevant article or a newsletter such as this one, but keeping up with your contacts keeps you in mind and imparts relevant information. It is a low-stress way to keep in touch and share your knowledge.
- Recharge. Don't knock yourself out networking every night, or even every week. Pick the events that fit your schedule and your budget, and keep selecting down to those that matter to you, and your business will grow markedly.