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Business Networking Tips

By David Quinn

Loathe it or love it networking and lead generation are now firmly established as a critical business skills and when performed in the right way can help you establish contact with numerous valuable prospects. The two major methods of networking are:

a)    Local Networking:

This only happens when you get out from behind your computer and speak to people! Do you really believe that your customers are going to show up at your door, and say – “wow, there you are – I need you and have been looking for you for ages”! If that’s the way you think, then the joke is on you and it’s not funny.

It is not difficult to increase your sales by using networking events. Your first task is to find them, and they are generally advertised online and also offline in areas where they are due to be held. Once you have established that you are able to attend a specific networking event, you should plan for it, because without planning and preparation you will not get the maximum benefit from it.

 Relationship building is one of the more valuable benefits from networking events, and if you can connect with the right people then you can not only increase your sales but build a better foundation for the future of your business. Here are some tips on how to use such events to get the maximum benefits of networking events and advantage from them.

Go with a goal: A common mistake that people make when entering a networking situation (planned or otherwise) is to fail to have a firm goal in mind. Are you looking to acquire new prospects, meet colleagues for possible collaborations, create a mutual referral partnership, create name recognition for you and your business, find funding or just “shop around” for interesting news and trends you can use? If you haven’t taken the time to determine what your goals are you will have a hard time meeting them. Of course, most businesses have several different needs, but in many cases any given networking opportunity is unlikely to provide more than one or two types of results, depending on the situation at hand. For example, if you are attending an event made up primarily of others in your industry or trade, you are unlikely to meet prospects, since everyone will be a provider just like you, nor are you likely to find referral partners, since almost everyone will be a direct competitor. So if your primary needs are customers and referrals, such events, while not an entire waste of time, might not be your best use of it.

Be Prepared: Without proper preparation you will never get the maximum advantage from a networking event. Make sure you have business cards, a pen and a small pad to write on. You will hopefully have a number of contact names and numbers to make note of. It looks terrible if you have to borrow a pen! Do you know who will be attending and have you isolated a few people you definitely want to make sure to meet, or are you going in blind and resigned to winging it? Don’t forget to double-check the time, date and venue. Nothing is more irritating than showing up only to find that you’re too early, too late or unable to find a parking space.

Hone your message: Leave your sales pitch at home! Networking is networking, and sales are sales. Confuse the two and you’ll lose out on both. Nobody wants to be sold to, especially when they’re quite plainly not in a sales environment. When someone asks you what you do, be articulate, to the point and compelling, this is not the time to give a dry and deadly-dull job description. Save that for your resume. When someone asks about you and your business, you are being given a golden, but brief, opportunity to impress, make sure you do so.

Move Around: Don’t lose sight of what it is you are trying to achieve, getting caught up with a particular individual or group is a common problem. Listen carefully to what is going on and when appropriate politely excuse yourself and engage somebody else in conversation, now your networking.

Follow-Up: The follow-up is the most important aspect of networking. There are two specific strategies to follow:

First, immediately after the event – typically the next day – you should send a handwritten card to the people you met. Mention something from your conversation and express your interest to keep in contact. Always include a business card in your correspondence.

Next, within two weeks, contact that person and arrange to meet for coffee or lunch. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about    their business, the challenges they face, and how you could potentially help them. This is NOT a sales call – it is a relationship building meeting.

b)   Online Networking

Online social networking sites emerged as a result of web users developing a need to interact with each other. This method of relationship building has now been adopted by business and if you are building brand awareness, it is essential that you have a presence on these online social networks because these are the place people hang around. The most popular networking sites are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and you can use them to maintain a dialogue with your prospects online.

 Getting started A Facebook page is extremely easy to create: the site provides a template where the user simply fills in the blanks, and can post pictures and corporate logos.

There is no cost to the user – the companies that operate the sites make money from banner advertising. Each page has a unique URL address.

Networking sites offer search facilities to allow participants to locate and interact with others on the basis of function, place, personality traits, business interests or demography.

A key concept of social networking is that of “friends”, a term with a specific meaning in the online environment. Friends choose to be part of a user’s group of contacts, and lists of friends can contain hundreds or thousands of names. Add friends and be sociable – If you are using these online social networks to build your online presence and your network marketing business, invite people who are interested in the same niche. The easiest way to find people in your same niche is by joining related groups and inviting the other members to become your friend.

LinkedIn for example finds potential connections based on the people you’re already connected with – it says if you’re connected to x person, maybe you know some of the people x is connected with and recommends them to you. Go through these recommendations and connect with people you know.

 Social networking is growing as a marketing tool, but the general view is that it should be used solely for the purpose it is intended for and should not be used for direct selling.