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On the Network: The Best Person to Market Your Business Is…You!

“On the Network: The Best Person to Market Your Business Is…You!”

Tips on networking include ideas for maximizing the value of contacts and sales leads.

I’m always amazed how many folks talk about networking — yet, when questioned, will admit they’ve rarely if ever benefited from it and are confused about what it really is. To many it’s just another buzz word. However, once you understand the mechanics of effective networking, it’s easy to utilize it as a marketing tool for your business.

Networking simply means meeting people who can be of help to you, and being of help to them. It can mean exchanging business contacts, sales leads and resources. For sales people and entrepreneurs, it may mean finding sources of new business opportunities; professional people often use networking to enhance their careers.

Networking opportunities abound all around us. The truth is, any place two or more people gather you may find an opportunity to network. But unless you have specific goals in mind, you’ll waste time networking in the wrong places — or failing to network in the right ones.

Networking For All The Right — Or Wrong — Reasons

First, establish your reasons for networking. Do you want to:

  • locate new business opportunities?
  • make professional contacts?
  • change jobs in the near future?
  • change career direction?
  • make friends?
  • increase your knowledge of your field or area of interest?

A great many "networking attempts" are usually doomed to failure because the individuals treat then as if they were making sales calls — high-pressure sales calls at that. You’re especially likely to meet people like this at events billed as networking mixers. At some of these events, everyone there is trying to sell something to everyone else. Here’s how you can spot these offensive pseudo-networkers:

  • They collect stacks of business cards without ever connecting with the people.
  • They intrude inappropriately on people.
  • They have short, superficial interactions with others.
  • They talk and focus only on their own agenda. They are not really listening to the other person to gather information.
  • They may try to make a "sale" on the spot — it doesn’t matter to them if it’s a networking event, a wedding, or a funeral.
  • When in conversation, they’re constantly looking around the room for more opportunities.
  • They tend to be aggressive and abrasive, and have little interest in helping others.

This is not networking.

The real secret of networking success is simple: Networking must be "win-win," where both parties see the benefits. Since nothing in life is equal, you may give assistance to people who are unable to help you. Other times people will help you and you can’t return the favor. Sometimes the results come much later. Rest assured, it evens out.

How To Network In Organizations

From an entrepreneur or a salesperson’s viewpoint, the best networking strategy is to attend functions and join organizations where you’re most likely to find your best potential contacts. Then simply socialize. You’ll develop business contacts as well as friendships over a period of time. In my experience, these long-term relationships were always the best.

But don’t join organizations at random. Evaluate an organization before joining:

  • What do the members do for a living?
  • Is their daily routine or/and background putting them in contact with the people you need to meet?
  • Are the members successful, or do you get that "loser" feeling?
  • Do the members appear to have a "win-win" attitude?
  • Is there a true atmosphere of sharing and friendship?
  • Are most members negative or positive in attitude and behavior?
  • Are they eager to share new ideas, or are they tired people just looking for a place to make idle chatter as they rest their feet?

Never forget, losers tend to hang out with losers, winners with winners. Go where the success is or don’t go.

If you sell packaging materials to widget manufacturers, your best networking opportunities are not in associations of packaging companies. All you’ll meet there are your competitors.

A much more effective strategy is to join an association of widget manufacturers. (Since you are not a manufacturer but rather a vendor, you may be allowed in as an "associate member.") You are now in an association where nearly everyone you meet is a potential customer or referral source.

Take some time and pick one good organization. Forget having a wallet full of membership cards: Don’t join anything unless you can attend regularly and will make a commitment. Next, get involved. Get known by volunteering for something. Follow through and be sure to do a good job at whatever it may be. Otherwise, you’ll lose credibility instead of gaining it.

Over a period of time, people will see you as a person who gets things done. You’ll be respected for it. If you do this in an organization of potential customers, business contacts will come your way that you’d never find otherwise. Do it in a trade organization with your competitors and you’ll settle for a handshake.

How To Network At Large Impersonal Events

These are frequently called "networking events" or "mixers," and are sponsored by various organizations such as Chambers of Commerce. Here you need to talk to lots of people and you can be a little more direct than if you were joining an association. Good manners and common sense still prevail, however.

First, work on any qualms you may have about talking to strangers. I see people go to networking events with a friend, then spend the entire time walking around, talking to the friend, and looking at the surroundings. They isolate themselves from any contact with new people. Later they’ll complain about the unproductive networking event.

Successful networking requires a determination to meet as many new people as possible — and that includes walking up to people you don’t know and introducing yourself. If you plan to wait for someone to approach you, stay home and save yourself the wasted effort.

Second, in this kind of networking — unlike networking in organizations where you’ll be attending on a regular basis — you can and should ask for sales leads (if that’s your networking goal). Remember, however, that you never ask anyone if they know somebody who wants to buy something. No one does.

Here are some proven networking strategies for large events where you don’t know anyone:

  • Go alone — or if you go with someone, split up until the event ends.
  • Smile when you walk in the door, and don’t stop until you leave.
  • Count out, say, 20 business cards for a large event, fewer for a small one. Promise yourself you won’t leave until you’ve given out all the cards.
  • Have a name badge made up with your name and company name. Pin it to your right lapel. When you shake hands, it’s easy to read.
  • As you walk around, make eye contact with everybody. The minute you get a return eye contact, smile, extend your hand and simply say "Hi, My name’s —. I’m in the business of (benefit), and you are?" Wait for them to answer.

State the nature of your business as a benefit. Don’t say "I’m in real estate" — say, "I’m in the business of finding people their dream homes." A good friend of mine who is in the alarm business will say, "I’m in the business of saving lives."

By simply stating how you benefit people instead of what your line of work is, what might normally be dull and boring (to others) becomes interesting — even exciting.

Spend under ten minutes with any one person. Collect business cards, making notes on the back so you’ll remember who’s who. You can (and should) follow up with a phone call.

One thing for sure, I’d be a lot poorer today — both in money and friends — if I hadn’t made networking a habit.

About the Writer: Ted Tate, president of Tate & Associates of Mentor, Ohio, is an author and authority on training and marketing. He speaks and presents workshops, seminars and break-out sessions at meetings and conventions nationwide. This article first appeared in Entrepreneurial Edge — Volume 4 — 1998.

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