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Six rules for successful networking

By Larry Galler

April 01, 2010

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So there you are, at a business event with a pack of business cards in your pocket, balancing a plate of spicy meatballs, cheese cubes, and celery sticks in one hand, a beverage in the other.

People are milling around or clustered in small groups. Someone you’ve never seen before comes up to you, introduces himself, sticks out his hand to shake yours, and… what do you do? What do you say?

At this point, some people are mentally trying to find a hole to crawl into, while others are well-prepared and eager to shake hands with this person (if they can figure out how to get their drink and plate in just one hand, and engage him in conversation.)

It’s your moment to shine, to impress, to learn, and to perhaps find a new prospect for your business.

This is “networking”, one of the most effective, least expensive marketing methods ever devised.

Networking events are hosted by most Chambers of Commerce, trade groups, and organizations created to assemble people to meet and learn about each others businesses. BNI, LeTip, and Leads Club are examples of national groups, and there are many regional and local organizations.

While a few people are seemingly born to be “natural” networkers, most of us stumble and struggle through these events.

But you really don’t have to stumble and struggle. Networking can be fun and profitable if you learn a few things about it and practice a little.

One way to be a successful networker is to treat it as a game or a sport and like any game or sport, to win, you must know the rules:

Rule 1

Have a short, well-practiced, engaging, benefit-laden, and curiosity-creating introductory phrase ready to deliver. Within a couple of moments, one of you will ask the other, “So what do you do for a living?” If you are stuck for an answer, you lose. You might as well just take your business cards and go home because you haven’t done your homework. You aren’t prepared.

Rule 2

Whatever you say that describes your business, it must have a benefit associated with it. If you say “I clean carpet”, the networking referee will blow a whistle to give you a penalty. Look, all carpet cleaners clean carpet… what makes your company special? Why should the person you are talking to use you?

Rule 3

This conversation is not only about you! Networking is a “give and take” activity. It takes both of you to communicate to see if either of you has something the other one wants or needs, so ask questions and give the other person the opportunity to talk. They might have products and services you need to buy. I have met a number of excellent vendors at networking events, including my financial planner, accountant and handyman. Some have also become my clients and referral agents.

Rule 4

Don’t expect to make a sale now. Expect to start a relationship that may develop into a sale in the future. Some of these relationships can go on for years before they have need of your services.

Rule 5

Have a system in place to follow up with your prospects — immediately. The person you are talking to will meet a number of other people at the event you are attending. It is very easy for some of them to forget you and, when they go through the business cards they have collected, it’s very possible your business card ends up in the trash. If you want to build that relationship, it is up to you to make each person remember you and what you can do for them. Just giving out business cards isn’t enough.

Rule 6

Follow up continuously. The people you meet may not need your services for a long time. In our busy, multi-tasking world, most people will not remember you unless you continually remind them. You can send them e-mails, postcards, letters, contact them with telephone calls, anything to keep reminding them that, when they need or want your service, they should call on you.

The real deal

That’s it, six rules for successful networking.

Please realize that almost every person you meet has need for your services. Most of them can afford your services and they will use the people they know and trust to give them quality craftsmanship, excellent service and full value.

The more people you know — more importantly, the more people who know you — the more people you will have for customers and referral agents.

The logic is simple but, like most things, the implementation and execution are difficult.

And that brings us to some important points, challenges you will face when attempting successful networking.

Three challenges to successful networking

The first challenge is becoming comfortable talking to total strangers.

Unless you were voted “Most Popular” back in high school, this is something most people need to practice.

I coach my clients to engage people in non-threatening, no-risk situations where, if they get totally rebuffed, they have not lost anything.

An example might be striking up a short conversation with the person in line behind you at the supermarket. Aside from a comment on the weather, an opening gambit could be, “It sure would be nice if the store added more cashiers!” If that doesn’t start a risk-free conversation, nothing will.

The second challenge is to create a short, 10-20 (shorter is better) word statement of what you do, why you do it, and what sets you apart from your competitors. This is critical.

The best of these introductory statements compel the person you are talking with to ask a follow-up question for more information. Once you have worked up this statement, practice it over and over so it sounds natural and easy to deliver.

The third challenge is to develop the discipline to immediately communicate (e-mail, post card, written note, etc.) with the people you meet — just a “Nice to meet you” is fine, and then be committed to follow-up repeatedly over time.

So practice your introduction, get used to talking to strangers, put a pack of business cards in your pocket, and start networking for fun and profit.

Larry Galler specializes in coaching owners of small businesses to grow their businesses through effective marketing, customer retention programs, and systemizing their business practices. Explore how he can help you during a free coaching session by calling (800) 326-7087 or email larry@larrygaller.com. Visit his website at www.oneyeartogreatness.com.

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