Networking, whether through business associations or other means, is the most prevalent and cost effective way for small and home businesses to attract new and repeat sales writes Marcus Stafford.
Research shows that networking and “word of mouth” advertising together are 7 times more likely to bring in business than all forms of traditional advertising and direct mail combined.
How does it work? More importantly, how can you make it work for your business and get noticed by headhunters at the same time? Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Select a few key associations or organizations and participate actively. Go to meetings as often as possible and work on one or two committees. Your goal: to be the first person everyone remembers and suggests when others ask, “Do you know anyone who….”
2. Get to events early and plan to stay late. You can’t meet and talk to people while a meeting is in progress. Be sure you circulate, too – really work that room. If you spend too much time with any one person, you can’t meet others. You also prevent the person you’ve attached yourself to from circulating, and they may resent it. If walking away from a person or group makes you feel awkward, have a few exit strategies ready to use. “Excuse me, I really need another cup of coffee this morning” works well for early morning meetings. Beer usually works well later in the day.
3. Greet people you’ve met in the past. Ask how projects they are working on are going, mention news articles you’ve seen about them, and congratulate them on any recent successes they’ve had. Sales grow out of relationships, and this is a good way to establish relationships with key contacts and prospects. Be sincere, though. If you’re not, you’ll be written off as an opportunist. Think long term – don’t expect a sale or a job immediately. People buy from people they know and like – that only comes with time.
4. Follow up on leads. All the leads in the world are worthless if you don’t follow up on them. Make that phone call or send the information you promised. Then, at the next meeting you attend, ask if your contact got what you sent. Tip – When you get business cards, make a note on the back showing where and when, and in what context, you met that person. Trust me, it’ll come in handy some weeks later!
5. Be generous about sharing business tips, referrals and leads with noncompetitors. You’ll be remembered for your help, and may get business or referrals as a result later on. (You win in another way, too – helping others become successful is as rewarding as being successful yourself.)