January 2006 Archives

Business Networking Tip #4: Turn Contacts Into a Network

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After you've attended a number of business networking events and have collected a stack of business cards from contacts, you may ask yourself, "What do I do with these contacts?"

One of the key benefits of networking is being able to weave contacts into a network of people who can help each other.

If you keep your contacts from knowing with each other, there's little way they can work together to help you achieve your objectives. On the other hand, if you have introduced many of your contacts to each other, it's easy for them to work with each other in ways that benefit both them and you.

While it's possible for the contacts you introduce to each other to exclude you from their activities, that's very unlikely when you are a key part of their lives.

So, how do you introduce contacts to each other? Here are a few ways to introduce your contacts to each other.

  • Introduce two contacts to each other when you see both of them at a networking event.
  • Send an introductory e-mail to both people describing a bit about each person and why you think they would be interested in knowing each other.
  • Schedule a conference telephone call for all three of you so you can introduce them to each other.
  • Schedule a breakfast, lunch, or dinner where the three of you can meet.

Each person will be impressed that you've made a special effort to help them meet someone they're likely to be interested in knowing.

The more you're able to introduce people to each other, the tighter your network becomes, and the more everyone in your network will benefit from knowing each other.

Business Networking Tip #3: Join Groups

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You can network at practically any event or activity, but a few types of events produce the best business networking results.

Events that are promoted as "networking" generally make it easy to meet a large number of people quickly, but they don't necessarily have the structure to help you create ongoing relationships.

This means that in addition to attending pure business networking events, consider joining organizations and groups compatible with your networking objectives.

Here are a few types of organizations that have events where you can meet other like-minded members:

  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Community service clubs
  • Industry specific associations
  • Professional associations

To find these organizations in your area check out these resources:

Here are organizations that are focused on business networking as their main activity and have networking events throughout the country:

Once you find a few local groups and organizations to join, be sure to volunteer for committees that can use your skills. Working with key committees within an organization gives you an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships. It also gives other members an opportunity to see the quality of your work, which can lead to them including you in business-related projects and activities.

While networking at business-related groups produces great results, also be open to networking opportunities at your more casual and fun groups. In addition, it’s great to volunteer at civic and social services organizations.
Here are Web sites that can help you find volunteer opportunities at non-profit organizations:

Whether you join business, civic, social services groups – or a casual group of people who share your interests – you’ll find that getting involved in groups will give you plenty of good networking opportunities.

Business Networking Tip #2: Update Your Business Card

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Business cards are the currency of exchange at business networking events. Many people feel they've had a successful business networking experience if they've collected a lot of business cards -- and have given their card to many people.

If business networking were that simple, we would all be tremendously successful!

The best reason to exchange business cards at a networking event is when two people feel there is enough of a connection that it's worthwhile staying in contact.

While it's a great to exchange business cards, the key question is whether they can look at your card a few days or weeks later and know why they should call you. If your business card doesn't answer this question then you may never hear from that person again.

There are several types of information on business cards that can tell what you do and why your contact should call you:

  • A positioning statement slogan
  • Mission statement
  • List of products or services
  • Logos of companies represented
  • List of skills
  • Licenses and certifications

Probably the hardest of these to create--yet the most effective--is a positioning statement slogan that includes two items. First, it identifies the type of customers or clients you serve. Second, it either describes the products or services you provide, or it describes the benefits your customers receive.

Here are examples of positioning slogans for various types of companies to get you started:

  • Providing accounting services to growing entrepreneurs
  • Precision drilling equipment for the aircraft industry
  • Swimming pools for fun and exercise
  • Lamps and shades that light modern homes
  • Community calendar for your events and meetings
  • Turning events into networking experiences

Take a look at your business card and make sure it tells people not only how to contact you, but why they should contact you.

Business Networking Tip #1: Know Your Objectives

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There are several reasons that people attend business networking events. Yet, most of us don’t benefit from attending these events as much as we could.

Many people go to networking meetings, or other places where they meet new people, and don't have an objective for meeting new people -- other than to just swap stories and enjoy each other's company for an hour or so.

Other people attend networking meetings with a short-term need -- such as to find new customers -- which inevitably proves fruitless.

Unfortunately, both of these approaches fall short of creating a network of contacts that can provide long-term value in addition to enjoying each other’s company.

The primary benefit of attending business networking events is to create a group of people with common interests who are open to opportunities to work together and help each other.

Like a computer network, your business network of contacts needs to be created before it can help anyone in the network.

But, you need the right network in place to help you accomplish your goals.

The first step is to decide what’s the right network for you by determining what you want to accomplish with your network.

Here are some examples of reasons to network for various types of people that may help you clarify your own business networking objectives:

  • Salespeople - Obtain referrals
  • Consultants – Form partnerships with other consultants
  • Job seekers - Learn about job openings
  • Managers and executives - identify candidates to hire, community organizations to volunteer
  • Entrepreneurs - Locate potential investors and partners
  • Writers - Find people to interview and story ideas
  • Architects - Identify people interested having a unique house or office building
  • Accountants - Learn about people who are looking to grow their company

While it's essential for you know your objectives, it's even better if the people you meet at networking events know your objectives.

So how do you go about letting the people you meet at networking events know how they can help you? The first step is to take a bland introduction and turn it into letting people know about your objectives.

Here are some introductions that can accomplish this:

  • Hello, my name is [name]. I'm a marketing consultant and I'm here to help people who are interested in improving their marketing.
  • Hello, my name is [name]. I'm an accountant and I'm here to learn which companies in the community are growing.
  • Hello my name is [name]. I'm an architect, and I'm here to meet people who like unique homes and office building.
  • My name is [name]. I'm a wedding photographer and I'm here to meet people who like photography.

Notice that none of these introductions even imply that the people you meet should feel guilty for not buying your product or service, or using your company. You want to just let people know what you do and what you’re looking for.

As you can see, it can be tough to create an introduction that doesn't look like you're there to sell everyone your product or service. However, by having your business networking objectives in mind, you'll be able to intersperse your objectives in conversations with the people you meet. The key is to not wait for the other person to get around to asking why you’re at the networking event -- share a bit about why you're there so they'll know how they can help you.

In addition to letting the people know your objectives so they can help you, it's important to be open to learning about their objectives as well.

When you meet people for the first time at a business networking event, you never know what you'll find. As you chat with someone, you might meet someone who shares your interest in a sport or hobby, someone just starting out who appreciates a few tips from you, or even someone who becomes a supportive friend. None of these people may turn into business contacts, but these personal contacts may be just as valuable personally.

Be open and let people know about you. And, be open to the possibility of meeting someone who becomes a valuable business contact and personal friend.

Top 10 Business Networking Tips Coming

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January is a great month for updating our networking techniques and getting reenergized about building relationships.

Throughout January I'll be adding a series of posts on the topic Top 10 Business Networking Tips. Instead of a traditional "Top 10" list, these will be somewhat in-depth discussions of each tip with some action items you can take to make networking more beneficial for you and those in your network.

The series will start by suggesting that you ask yourself why you are networking, and will end with a technique for building your personal "brand" that attracts people to you.

As always, I invite your comments.

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