Using networking as a business tool benefits your business, yourself and your community

Take a fresh approach to networking: using networking as a business tool benefits your business, yourself and your community

Lynn Fey

Networking is a great investment in your business and yourself. When you network, you build a web of people who know about you, as well as your products and services. Those people may end up buying from you and helping your business grow.

The idea of connecting with people to share information and resources–or networking–is not a new one, but the benefits are limitless.

Harvey MacKay, an author and successful businessperson, said it best, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.” This statement is the basis of successful networking. Networking is not a quick fix program but, over time, it can build a strong support structure for you and your business that will continue to produce results for years to come.

Tips for Networking

Don’t just talk, listen: Networking is so much more than shaking hands and passing out business cards. Remember the simple formula–two ears, one mouth. Use them in proportion.

The primary objective of networking is to gain an understanding of your potential customers’ concerns and problems–not to expound on your own credentials. Most people waste the few precious moments they have with a new or existing contact by focusing on themselves. Instead, spend most of your time asking questions and collecting information.

Move beyond the personal conversation: Today, time and attention are hard to come by, so it’s very important for you to create an “elevator speech” for yourself. The elements of a good elevator speech are straightforward, according to lay Conrad Levinson, author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Free.”

“An elevator pitch takes no longer than 10 seconds” he wrote. “It comes out so naturally that you can say it in your sleep. It describes how you offer value, benefits and quality.”

According to Levinson, “Once you have your 10-second elevator pitch down pat, create a 30-second pitch just in case you’re in an elevator in a high-rise building.”

Ask questions: It’s been said that if you talk about yourself, you’ll bore the listener. But if you encourage the listener to speak, you’ll be seen as a brilliant conversationalist. That’s good advice for networking. Use questions to identify each individual’s primary concerns and at least one piece of personal information. While those concerns might not involve custom framing, if you help someone solve a problem, he’ll be more likely to remember you when he has a problem that requires your products or services.

Remember names: Remembering people’s names can be difficult, but it makes them feel important. There are several books on the subject at your local library or bookstore. And if you find yourself forgetting a person’s name, admit it at the start. As a courtesy, reintroduce yourself to people you may have met before. By doing so, you’ll help them avoid embarrassment if they have forgotten your name.

Refer people to other people who can solve their problems: This is always a win-win situation. First you’ll be seen as a problem solver and, second, the people who benefit from your referrals will be more likely to provide you with referrals in return.

Provide free info: A network is built by sharing something of value. But the fuel that keeps it alive is helpfulness. How do you help people? If you listen, you will discover their interests. Send them an article that you think might interest them; recommend a book; compliment them when they do something impressive or refer a great lead to them. Most importantly, do these things without expecting something immediately in return. If you nurture your network and help others, eventually you will reap your rewards.

Stay informed: It’s easier to carry on a conversation and relate to different people when you have a wide range of knowledge. Have a selection of conversation starters in mind–they can come simply from reading books, magazines or the newspaper. Watch or listen to news programs on television or the radio, go to the movies or concerts, and surf the Internet.

Keep notes and follow up: Keep a record of your potential customers’ interests, what you’ve shared with them and when and how to contact them. You can use sophisticated tools such as contact management software or just write a note on the back of their business cards. Follow up with phone calls, email messages, letters or meetings over coffee or lunch.

Where Can You Network?

Networking has no boundaries. Your daughter’s soccer game, volunteer activities, the gym, your local church, alumni and professional associations, seminars–opportunities are everywhere.

People would much rather do business with friends than strangers so, no matter how you choose to network, you can separate yourself from the ranks of strangers.

Formal networking opportunities to consider include:

Professional networking and lead-generation groups: These groups share prospective leads between people in different businesses. Because they usually limit membership to only one person per business category, you will not have direct competition within the group. If you attend a meeting, you will get a chance to stand and present a 30-second “commercial” to the other members of your group.

Trade shows: Attending industry trade shows provides a wonderful opportunity to network. Peers, competitors and suppliers make excellent networking targets. Remember, the goal of networking is not just to get more business. These contacts can help strengthen your knowledge and influence within your industry.

Service clubs: Some of the better-known service clubs include Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and Optimists. These clubs require a lot of time and commitment, so join only if you are prepared to get involved as a volunteer.

Joining a club or association allows you to meet a lot of prospective customers, suppliers and fellow entrepreneurs, not to mention members of the local media. There are a lot of good things you can accomplish by becoming a member.

If you can make the commitment, you’ll have a chance to develop strong relationships with other club members and your community, which can help you create new business.

Think you can’t afford to spend your time networking? Actually you can’t afford not to. Networking is a long-term growth strategy that can help you enhance your business in ways you can’t even imagine. Plus, it can be done as part of your regular daily routine–just be more aware and open to opportunities to network with the people you regularly come into contact with.

When you use networking as a business tool, you invest in your business, yourself and your community. And that’s the type of marketing we can all benefit from.

TIPS for networking

* Don’t just talk, listen.

* Move beyond the personal conversation.

* Ask questions.

* Remember peoples’ names.

* Refer people to other people who can solve their problems:

* Provide free information

* Stay informed.

* Keep notes and always follow up.

Lynn Fey has more than 17 years of marketing experience with a diverse range of products and services. She currently owns her own marketing consulting firm, InSight Solutions, which is based in Atlanta. She can be reached at lynnfey@aol.com.

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