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Archive for the ‘Association Networking’ Category

An interesting thing about business networking, it that if you do it enough you are bound to start running into people you have already met. For some people, this can be a gift to have someone you recognize and feel comfortable approaching, for others it’s frustrating to meet the same people over and over.

Either way of thinking, make the most of the event by taking that relationship to the next level. Jan Kopple had a great suggestion “I find out one new thing about someone I already know”. It is so easy to see someone familiar and chat about the information you already know, or to avoid them in hopes of meeting fresh leads, but it is not really helpful.

I can’t count how many times I have known someone for quite a while before we discovered how we could help each other. To speed up the process, don’t stop at asking for referrals. Take a look at this great list from Hazel Walker of the Networking Strategist Blog:

  1. You could put an article about my services in your newsletter, I will do the same for you.
  2. You could invite me to a networking opportunity that you may be going to.
  3. You could nominate me for an award it would build my credibility
  4. You could attend an event with me; it would create visibility for both of us.
  5. You could display my information or products in your office or store.
  6. You could mention me in your blog.
  7. You could read my blog and comment, and then link to my blog.
  8. You could introduce me to your network
  9. You could write an article for my newsletter
  10. You could invite your best client to our chapter so I could meet them.
  11. You could WRITE me a great testimonial that I could used in my materials.
  12. You could put my brochure or information in your client mailings.

Having some ideas about what you could ask to learn more and get more out of networking makes it much easier to respond. Not everyone will be comfortable recommending a prospect right away, but most people are happy to help in smaller ways to get to know you better.

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To kick this blog off, I posted a question on LinkedIn “Is networking easy or your biggest nightmare?” and got some great response. Many respondents love networking and had some great tips to offer, which I will include in future posts.

For today, I am going to focus on the reluctance to self-promote. Nicole Rivera, Product Marketing Manager at Devon Intl Group said “I don’t mind networking and meeting new people. When it comes to the point in the conversation where I’m supposed to ‘sell’ my company – so to speak – that’s where I freeze. I enjoy talking to people, the idle chit-chat, but when it comes to the real reason we’re here, that’s what I find hard. I don’t like the ulterior motive portion of it.”

I think many people feel the way Nicole does. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves or that it is inappropriate or bragging. It can be, if handled badly, however for those of use whose job it is to generate business, every occasion is an opportunity, so we need to find a balance. Weddings, parties, neighborhood gatherings – events of a purely social nature – are especially delicate, but no less an opportunity. I have gotten clients out of all those occasions.

For many people “so, what do you do?” is an easy opening conversational question, even at a party. I recommend having a social version of your 30-second intro. Don’t waste the opportunity with a non-answer like “I’m in marketing.” Think of a  5 or 10 word version of what you do that will allow for a probing question if someone is intrigued – and leave room for an “oh that’s nice” from everyone else. I have a friend who is a PhD and works in robotics. I asked him if he could do it and he said “I make computers less dumb.” Brilliant. What would you say about what you do in 5 or 10 words?

When it comes to official business networking events like a chamber of commerce social, business breakfasts, awards dinners, business card exchanges it is another thing. If you are uncomfortable bringing up business in a situation designed for meeting new prospects, that’s a whole other issue. Absolutely there are people that hand out cards like candy and ask for coffee meetings only to probe your contact list. You don’t want to be aggressive, however learning someone’s kid plays little league and not why they came isn’t the best use of the money you just spent for breakfast. Try transitioning with “what do you like best about this group?” or “how have you grown your business” to find out about the kind of referrals that might be good – chances are they’ll ask the same question back to you.

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What I hear most often from people is “how do you just walk up to people and start talking?”

Ok, so most of the time when networking, you are walking into a room that already has a number of people – and they all seem like they are already talking to someone. Great, now what?

What you have to remember is that unlike a dinner party, many of the people talking to each other just met a minute ago, you are not interrupting lifelong friends catching up. Still breaking into a conversation can be intimidating. There are so many ways to do this, I will need a number of posts.

If you are going to an event where you are totally new and expect not to know a soul, try engaging the staff or board.

  1. Email before the event and ask a question or two. It can be anything from directions to what type of people usually come. When you arrive, ask the check in staff to point out the person you were emailing so you can introduce yourself and thank them for their help. It will be easier because you already have started a relationship by phone or email, and it is a good excuse to break in if the person is already talking to someone.
  2. Find the board members. If the person you were emailing is the person at the desk, then you need another option. They don’t have time to talk to you. Ask them to point out the board members or other leaders – a membership chair is good, they always want to talk to potential members. You can say “I’m new and Mary suggested I introduce myself to you.”
  3. Ask for an introduction. The board member should know many of the attendees, so use them to get you to a good prospect. Tell them briefly what you do and the type of people you hope to meet. Ask them if there is anyone there you should definitely meet. Every board member I have ever known will walk you right over and get the next conversation started.

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I am starting this blog for everyone who has ever walked into a room full of strangers with the intention of “networking” and wanted nothing more that to forget the $46 you just paid for lunch just to get out of there.

Most of my business can be traced back, one way or another, to networking. It’s been 12 years, and I am still in business, growing and adding employees, so I guess it works. But it is never easy, even for an extrovert like me.

There is so much written about networking, but most seems to talk about the sales side – how many people you should speak to, how to follow up, how to convert that meeting into an appointment, into a sale. Those are all really valuable things and should be focused on if you are going to use networking as a sales tool. Despite all this great info out there, what I keep hearing from people is “how do you DO that?”

Now, as I mentioned, I am an extrovert. If you have ever looked at a personality profile, like Myers-Briggs, I’m the one who scored a 19 out of 20 on the Extrovert vs Introvert scale. So it may be easier for me, I don’t know. I know I like to talk, especially in person. And when I started my business alone in the basement, showing up at a lunch with a bunch of strangers seemed a whole lot better than sitting alone in the basement.

When I started out I had never heard of networking. When I had a “regular” job I was expected to focus on what was inside the four walls, not outside. Once I liberated myself, I called all the people I knew and told them I was now “out on my own”. And the second day of business…I was reading the newspaper.  Surprisingly, this turned out to be the right thing to do. In the back of the local paper were these things called “Business Events”.  I found some kind of a local business women’s lunch and signed up. Little did I know I had learned my first lesson of networking – just go. Nothing can happen if you don’t show up. I had no idea what I was getting into, and most of the women at the lunch had blue hair and had been retired for years. I have no idea what the speaker was about or if I met anyone that day, but the next day someone from the group called me and asked if I had heard about another group. I hadn’t (of course) and signed up to go to something else. So I now had two things to do in a month. At the time, it was a really big deal. And at the second event – I knew one person.

And so my journey of networking started. I have developed a lot of tricks to help get through the social awkwardness over the years. I want to share them here, learn what struggles others have and hear about great ideas. My company is a marketing and design firm focused on strengthening membership organizations through encouraging participation. I believe that if people feel welcome, involved and included they stay in a group. That’s tough to do if folks won’t mingle. I hope to help everyone feel more comfortable jumping in.

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