360 Approach to Networking

As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned many things about being a small business owner, however, if I had to sum it up based on “one thing” that has worked well for me it would be networking.  Networking has been the foundation to building relationships and securing business opportunities.

Everyone is different, has different personalities, aspirations and measures of success.  However, I’m pretty confident that if you are reading this blog, you are interested in growing your business.  So, with that said, I’d like to offer up 5 networking tips which are centered on what I call the “360 approach to networking.  If you follow these tips, you will be more targeted, efficient and successful in networking.

  1. Do your homework.  Google networking events in your city and by your trade if your business specializes in a particular industry.  This will likely give you a pretty exhaustive list if you live in a larger city/MSA.  I suggest starting large so that you have an opportunity to see a list of all the organizations that offer a networking event.  Once you see this long list, scan the organizations and jot down the ones that are of general interest.  At this point, don’t get caught up in dates and times of the meetings but rather focus on organizations that are of interest to you.
  1. Do your research.  Once you have an initial list of the organizations that seem to be of interest, check out their websites, see if they have a LinkedIn group or a closed Facebook page or if there is a name associated with the event (i.e. contact John Smith for details).  Google John Smith to get a sense of his background.  By taking the time to do some research, you’ll be able to decipher the types of people that attend these events and to see if there is alignment with your goals and needs.
  1. Schedule.  Schedule.  Schedule.  Everyone is busy and has a limited amount of time that can be spent away from the office.  With that said, if you can, I’d suggest picking two or three events to attend each week.  If you are new to networking, change them up each week for the first month or two.  Your goal should be to meet as many people as you can so that you will eventually find the networking events that fit your needs.  Once you’ve made the rounds, you’ll have a good sense of the ones that have potential based on conversations you’ve had and the other types of business representatives that are attendance.  In the beginning, I’d suggest scheduling recurring meeting invites for three months on your calendar so that they are on your calendar as the majority of events are held at the same time each month (for example, the 1st Tuesday of every month)
  1. At the event.  Up until this point, we’ve discussed what should be done “behind the scenes.”  It’s now time to go to the event.  No sweat.  Just remember everyone has been in your seat if you are new to networking – trust me they get the anticipation of going to something new.  Just one more thing to help you prep before you show up.  HAVE PLENTY OF BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU and have a professional name badge.

Arrive on time or even a little early.  Most people arrive early to get in as much networking time as possible.  When meeting people, it’s as simple as just introducing yourself and the company you are with.  I promise your questions and discussion will flow from here.

Once the meeting starts, the leader will set the tone and the agenda so you can easily follow suit.

  1. After the event.  You’ve now met a lot of people. Some of which are good business prospects and are interested in doing business with you, and the good majority may be best suited to give you referrals or others may be a good contact to have to build relationships with in your community.  I’d highly recommend an email follow up after the event to anyone that you met that you want to continue building a relationship with.  Timing is key – send your email the same day if possible.  Also, connect with people on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter so that you can engage with them often and support their businesses.

Networking needs to be viewed as a two-way process.  It’s not all about you but it’s about “how can we help each other.”

I’d like to leave you with, have fun with networking!  Networking is social, adds variety to your day and sometimes includes food and free gifts. Smile and enjoy networking!

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