If you're a business owner or a sales exec then networking is a part of your life - if not - it should be. After 21 years of owning my own business I've learned a few things about networking.
- Networking works. Every time I get out of the office and go to a networking meeting I either meet someone who can help me in some way, someone I can help, or I get a new idea that I can use in my business or for a client - it NEVER fails!
- Be open to meeting new people, introduce yourself, don't stand in a corner with someone you already know.
- Bring plenty of business cards but DON'T thrust them into everyone's hand without listening first.... which brings me to number 4.
- Be a good listener. Don't just talk about yourself. Ask people who they are, what they do. Try to learn as much as you can about them first, then see if you can do something to help them, can you introduce them to someone? Do you have a resource they should know about? Helping others first before handing over your business card is a great way to be remembered. It's not just about talking, networking is about listening and connecting others.
- Write down on the back of each business card how you met each person when you get back to the office, what you promised to do for them or what you learned from them.
- Add their card to your database for future use. If you use an Excel spreadsheet add a field for how you met the person - a note field.
- Consider using a CRM (Customer Reationship Management) software to track leads. Sugar CRM is one that is inexpensive and cloud based.
- If you met someone that you believe could be beneficial to you or someone you can help, follow up with a phone call and schedule time to have coffee. Be sure to indicate why you are calling and remind them of how you met. Remember this is not just about selling your services but also seeing how you can help the other person.
- If you enjoyed the group that you networked with, join it. Being a regular part of a group is good way to really get to know people, go to regular meetings, volunteer for positions and get on the board if you can. Involvement makes you more memorable to the folks in the group.
- Finally, find out if you can speak to the group. Is there a topic that you can shed light on? Is there information that you can share that will be beneficial to all? Not a sales speech about you, but information about your industry that can help them run their business better. Speaking is a super way to gain clients.
While some people seem to be better natural networkers than others, good networking can be learned. I have met many people over the years who are brilliant at it and others who are awful. Those who think that simply giving their business card to everyone they meet don't understand that the best networking comes from listening as well as talking.
Get better at it by practicing! Go to as many meetings as you can and meet new people. It will most certainly pay off.