Lately I have had the opportunity to do some more focused networking. and have already noticed the difference. Attending a networking event where everyone in the room is a potential client offers significantly more potential for striking up a valuable conversation.
As noted by Chris Brogan in his recent post Get More Out of Conferences and Networking Events, at any event the questions of “…which of these are people you should connect with? Who here is a client? Who’s a future partner? Where are your new friends that you’ll keep in touch with in coming years?” make it hard to jump in. Choosing your event carefully can make it so much easier.
At a broad networking event, say a Chamber, local business group or a vertical organization (like gender, nationality or religion based) you will meet a wide variety of people. These are excellent venues to meet potential clients, referrers, partners, suppliers, and lunch partners. Over time and with a commitment to the group, relationships build that allows this to happen. Open groups are also excellent for practicing networking skills.
Targeted networking is about fishing where the highest concentrations of fish are. If you sell products or services to real estate agents, there may be a few at general networking events, but at the association of realtors meeting the room will be full of prospects. You probably can’t pick a bad seat. If you don’t meet the perfect prospect, you are still likely to learn something raises the value proposition of the event.
To find events right for you look at your target audiences. Even if you can work with anyone, defining a few core areas will improve your positioning and marketing effectiveness. Having a focus makes it easier to make decisions and respond to inquiries and more likely that you will be seen as a resource rather than a vendor when attending industry events. As an example, look at Gail Bower. Gail is a consultant who works with nonprofits handling many issues including marketing and event strategy. Within this area Gail has a special niche – she is a sponsorship expert. Where is Gail networking? Not at generic marketing or event planning groups, but at much more narrow events like a meeting of fundraising professionals or a group for festival planners. When she mentions she has solutions to sponsorship problems, I bet heads turn.
In the right room, Gail is a rock star. Where is your room? What do you know that a specific audience will think is gold? Chances are there’s a group, meeting, conference or association where you can turn heads too. How do you find that room? Ask your current clients what associations or professional societies they belong to, research online and look for conferences where the speakers are talking about your niche. Go as an attendee the first time to make sure you are in the right place then move on to speaking, serving on a committee, providing a financial or in-kind donations and/or becoming a trade show vendor. Contributing your time and expertise to the right audience is an excellent way to build relationships that lead to speaking invitations, referrals and client engagements.
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