Article #21, April 29, 2004
Networking is SCARY!
When I started my business, if I knew then what I know now I either would not have started it or I would have become profitable much faster! Everyone who has their own business needs to learn an incredible amount.
Perhaps the most important business tenet is so simple – you make money when you sell stuff. To sell stuff, you market. To market effectively, it’s important to specify a segment of the market to whom to target your marketing message. Then you give them your message and they buy!
Let’s say you have already done much of the preparation. You’ve selected a target market; you did the features/benefits analysis for your product and company and researched where your target gathers. Then what? Once you figure out where they are and what you want to say, then what do you do?
In most small businesses, relationships are critical to your success. In building relationships with other small business owners, you have the opportunity to learn, find reliable vendors and business service providers, share best practices and get customers - directly and from referrals. You find these other business owners by networking. To many, this is a very scary concept. Do not be afraid!
Before showing up, make sure your elevator speech is customer focused. Honestly, nobody really cares about you; they are interested in what’s in it for them. Why should they consider doing business with you or referring business to you from their customers? Practice in front of a mirror with a stopwatch if necessary, and make sure to smile appropriately. Review your features/benefits analysis for a confidence boost.
Then go where your ideal customers gather. If you’re all sitting at a table, suggest you all pass your cards around to each other and do a ‘round robin’ where everyone takes a minute or two to give their ‘elevator speech’ (the 30 second or more speech you give where you pitch your company or service). You may volunteer to go first if you wish – sometimes that just gets everyone going.
Some networking groups allow each attendee to give their elevator speech to everyone in the room. The time for this usually varies from 30 – 90 seconds. One networking group with whom I regularly meet also passes a tray around the room with everyone’s business cards.
If there are no formal networking opportunities, all attendees will probably be milling around a room or lobby area striking up conversations with each other. Although this may be difficult, especially at first, just walk right up to a group of people in conversation and listen. Everyone in the room knows you are all there for the same thing – networking – and will usually welcome you into the conversation.
- Keep your business cards in your left pocket, easily accessible. When you are shaking hands with someone, you can easily reach into your pocket and get a business card.
- Wear a name badge, and write clearly if it is a sticker.
- Ask others about their businesses first. This is more of a networking rule!
- Have something to say. Take your elevator speech and boil it down to about 10 words/7 seconds.
- After a few minutes, move on to other people.
You may want to ask for help from the leader or organizer of the group or event. Ask them to introduce you to people in your target. If you run out of things to say, ask open-ended questions. “Why are you here today? Who is your ideal customer? What is your biggest business problem?” are a few that work well. You are showing interest and qualifying them at the same time.
After you leave the event, send everyone you met a “Nice to meet you” email. If you want to maximize the effect of your networking, ask if you can get to know them better by meeting one-on-one to learn about each others’ businesses for purposes of referring to each other. Use the phone for your best customer/referral prospects. This is where the real power of networking kicks in. It is very unlikely someone will trust you enough in 5 minutes to decide to refer their hard-earned customers to you!
Networking can get you customers, but keep a longer-term approach. Keep going back to the same groups and presenting a consistent message directed at your target market again and again. When your contacts are ready to buy what you’re selling or come in contact with someone who is, they’ll think of you first!