If you just finished reading my article, “Making Networking ‘Work’ for You,” you know that business networking events get their inspiration from the kinds of nets used by fishermen. The way a fish net functions gives us insight into how to make networking work for our company.
Photo Credit: www.theasbc.org
When you attend a local networking event, the approach you take when interacting with other business reps will significantly effect what you get out of the event. Pushing your company’s product or service is exactly the wrong approach. Rather, as you zigzag your way through the room, introducing yourself and your company, concentrate on isolating the priorities of these participants to see how well they match up with your own.
What is the best approach to take when networking? Be strategic.
- Arrive early and select your first few potential networking partners before the room gets too crowded.
- Walk over to one of them and ask an open-ended question like, “So, what brings you here today?”
- Keep the conversation going by asking questions about what the company does and the rep’s own specialty and background.
- Answer their questions about yourself and your company without elaborating, which eats up precious time. Your goal is to efficiently find out as much as possible about each business while sharing details about your company that might spark their interest in building a relationship. Then politely break away and move on to your next target.
- Find common ground. See where you can relate to what this person/company does. You are trying to find connections that will help BOTH of your companies.
- Exchange business cards, and let him or her know how much you enjoyed talking. Ask if the rep knows of any companies that they work with that could use your services and request a referral.
- Look around and locate another of your pre-selected networking partners. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that this person is talking with other people. Just walk over and join yourself to the group.
- Join in the conversation by listening first and inserting a comment and/or introducing yourself at an appropriate time.
- Aim to eventually talk at least briefly with every participant. The very last person you network with may end up becoming an ideal connection, so don’t lose your enthusiasm and momentum before the event is over.
- Don’t forget to follow up. As soon as you leave the event, scan the business cards you collected into your phone, tablet or computer and set up a file so that you can contact these businesses fairly soon. Prioritize them by how well they fit with your company’s needs and objectives. Jot down as much as you can remember about your conversations with each rep so that, when you talk to them again, you can pick up the conversation where you left off. When you email or call, let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, ask them what they felt they got out of the event, and see if you can get an appointment to keep building the relationship.
When you view networking through the perspective of how a net functions, this unique approach makes sense. These events are not designed to trap a group of people in one room so that you can hard sell your product or service to them. Instead, like a net, which separates fish from their environment and gathers them together, networking takes people out of their individual work environments and brings them together in an equalizing setting. Moreover, it gives them a shared purpose—to start building relationships with each other.
Just as what affects one portion of a net affects the entire net to some degree, the connections made here enable participants to choose to become trusting and loyal support systems for each other. This way, their businesses all have a better chance at thriving.
How can you be effective at your next networking experience? Search for networking events in your target market areas. Use the same approach in building business relationships as you would in making friends—in other words, look for common interests and passions. Come up with creative ways to be supportive of their business objectives, and they will respond in kind.
As you honestly connect with these companies, they will see the value of having an ongoing relationship with your business—and with you. Networking often opens the doors for new customers, new vendors, and qualified referrals. Moreover, as both of your companies interact over time, you can each be there for the other to give a helping hand when needed.
Jinni Bradfield is a freelance business ghostwriter whose background in both education and advertising sales enables her to showcase a company’s mission, products and services, enhancing customer appeal. Over the past five years, she has written ad copy, articles, blogs and books for more than 100 happy clients.
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