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One of the most cost effective marketing tools available to business owners and solopreneurs is networking. There are dozens of free or low cost groups and events throughout the week you can attend. Networking groups and events are the perfect opportunity to meet other business owners and build the relationships which drive business.
The best part - networking works! My business and those of many of my colleagues and clients have been built off effective networking. That’s the key word here – EFFECTIVE!
If it isn’t working for you, keep reading for some pointers. (If it is, keep reading and tell me what’s worked for you in the comments below!)
One big reason small business owners and professionals fail to see success stems from not understanding the difference between networking and lead generation activities. Some of this lies with the organizers of local groups and events. They do not understand the difference and mislabel their events.
Lead generation. Many organizations, like BNI, are referred to as ‘networking’ groups when they are in fact lead generation or referral groups. There is nothing wrong with these groups but they’re purpose is to help business owners by passing leads or referrals. Each member essentially acts as a ‘sales agent’ for each other. They keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities for others in the group in addition to opportunities for themselves.
Networking. These groups and events are designed to connect business owners. The goal of networking is to build relationships, not sell, ask for leads or pass referrals. They’re about connecting.
Networking (as defined by Merriam-Webster): the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business
Many professionals think by attending as many events as possible and handing their business cards out to as many people as possible they are networking. In reality, all they are doing is meeting people and telling them who they are. Effective networking requires learning about others. It requires active listening. It requires changing one’s mindset from lead opportunity to long term business opportunity.
Effective networking is all about having a plan and executing that plan to build stronger relationships and build life time referral sources.
As a Networking Professional, I have a plan every time I set out to attend a Chamber, Networking or Mixer. I go into my “Give-Getter” mode and become a source for sources. I rarely hand my card out unless they ask for it. I do not lead with asking people what they do. I’m focused on who they are and what they need, not what they do. My goal is to find out when I meet people what their challenge is and how I can help them. It is NEVER about how I can “Sell” them.
I see the opposite at every event I attend. The person who is in ‘sales mode’ and demonstrates they are there for personal gain, becomes the person I rarely connect with and many times I may not even follow up them later. If they are so focused on themselves, how can they help me?
Their business card they just pushed in my face usually goes right into the “T” file when I return to my office – a lost opportunity for both parties.
I plan on following up with everyone else I meet and make an effort to meet for coffee at some point in the future. Those people that don’t respond or respond in a timely manner (a sign they do not value me or a potential relationship with me)? Their cards end up in my “T” file.
Effective Networking is a Two Way Street.
Ask yourself these questions:
I’ll add a final note on networking. Networking isn’t restricted to local groups and events. Social networking, leveraging social media to find, build and nurture relationships, can be just as effective, even more so, than the traditional route. It provides an opportunity to expand your network, reach out to and collaborate with like-minded business owners and professionals throughout the world. Done right it can be very powerful even for local businesses.
If you need help creating an effective networking plan or learning how to network on social media, I’d love to help.
MJ Jensen, Chief Idea Officer, IdeaMagic visionary marketing & social media