There are lots of opportunities out there to network. I just recently submitted an application to a Christian Business Networking Association. They meet twice a month at lunchtime. I’ve been to one regular meeting and one special event. My second meeting is today. If I’m not granted membership, this will be my last meeting. I don’t anticipate any trouble with my membership into the networking group I’m visiting today. Still, I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched.
I’ve been thinking about networking. Yes, the people I meet at these meetings will be potential customers. More importantly, though, they’re connections. You never know where those connections might lead.
There are some important things to remember about networking.
First, while many of these meetings/events include food, it’s not about the food. Focus on the people. No one is there to see how many baby carrots you can eat. Since I’m self-employed, I have an advantage at today’s meeting. Many people will bring their lunches to eat during the meeting. I’ll eat before I go and simply take a drink in.
Second, while it’s about you, it’s not ALL about you. Listen to the person you’re speaking with. Ask questions. Be sure to take along a notepad and make notes. Take the person’s business card and treat it with respect. Actually look at the card before putting it in your pocket or portfolio. If you say you’ll follow up, do. You have a responsibility to those you meet.
Third, don’t be too prompt. Arrive several minutes early and be prepared to stay several minutes after the end of the event. This time of very informal socializing is often when some of the most important connections are made.
Fourth, be prepared. Take plenty of business cards. Some people may ask for more than one so they can share your information with others. Know what you want to say when you’re introduced. You may have heard about your 60-second commercial or elevator speech. That’s what I’m talking about. When you’re introduced and someone asks, “So, what do you do?” You need to have something concise and memorable to say. Practice this until it’s comfortable.
If you go to regular networking events where you’ll see many of the same people, know what your current focus is. At today’s meeting I’ll be talking about wedding showers and registries, so I’ll be telling the members that I’m looking for people who are getting married in the next year or so. If I’m invited to join, I’ll talk next time about holiday shopping.
Again, if you’re going to a regular meeting, why not take along a conversation starter? (This is a great suggestion I got from one of the members.) I’ll be placing a product on the table in front of me. I won’t mention it at all, but I’ll be happy to answer any questions that come up. If you do this, make it something really interesting. Today I’m taking along one of my products that helps to break up ground meats while you’re cooking them. It’s a strange-looking item, so I’m sure it will spark some interest.
Networking groups and events range from powerful, positive teams to glorified, tax-deductible cocktail parties. They can really be a boost to your business, though, if you handle them right.