With all the focus these days about enhancing your search engine optimization (SEO),social media marketing and enhancing your online presence, all of which are extremely instrumental in your business marketing plan, we tend to overlook the benefits of traditional face-to-face networking. In certain communities, traditional in-person marketing can be even more beneficial since it establishes credibility and trust as well as establishing a foundation for a lasting relationship.
This does not mean you should overlook your social networking efforts, but it may be time to reassess the benefits of making time for networking opportunities available to you. It’s not online networking verses face-to-face marketing, but really a combination of both efforts working hand in hand to build your presence and your company’s brand.
Networking is an important, no-cost marketing tool that can help put new businesses and small start-ups on the fast track for success. This means networking should be part of every start-up’s marketing plan because it’s the surest way to build alliances with other businesses that will gladly promote your product or service to their customers.
“We like to do business with those we know and trust,” one marketing firm director says. “The best way to get to know someone, other than working with them directly, is through networking.”
If just thinking about walking into a room full of strangers makes you break out in a cold sweat, here are some tips to make networking easier, more effective and maybe even fun.
- Choose the place. Attend functions where the purpose is to promote business and not just to socialize. Hidden agendas and ‘old boy’ social clubs detract from the primary purpose of networking events, so find events that are designed for professional networking opportunities. Do your research ahead of time, so your time is not wasted. If the attendees are of like mind, with the same goal to meet new people and develop new business contacts, your efforts will not be in vain. Some suggestions are your local chamber of commerce, regional business associations, referral networks and national professional group chapters.
- Be prepared. Always bring plenty of your business cards and your best elevator pitch, a brief one- or two-sentence description of your business that clearly conveys what you do and is intriguing enough that people want to know more. Bring pens for jotting notes on the back of business cards. Also, bring fliers or brochures, in case the new contact is looking for more information about your product or service. [If you need professional design of your business card, fliers and other print materials, email Startup Production.]
- Use the buddy system. If the idea of walking into a room full of strangers, bring a friend along. But once you arrive, split up so you are not defeating the purpose of being there, which is meeting new people. Try to find other newcomers like yourself who may be easier to strike up a conversation with, since they are probably feeling nervous too, and they will be eternally grateful as well.
- Ask a question. Unfortunately, many professional don’t spend enough time building on their social skills and haven’t the faintest ideas on how to talk to strangers. To get the conversation started with a perfect stranger, show interest in them by asking a question. Here are some sample questions: “What do you do? How long have you been in business? What services or products do you provide? Where are you from?”
- Be a good listener. Listening is the secret to making sales, and it’s also the secret to successful networking. When you meet someone new, ask questions and really listen to the answers. When you listen carefully, two things happen. First, you’ll spot needs that your business can fill. Second, you’ll gain a reputation as a great conversationalist, which will make more people want to approach you.
- Don’t be self-absorbed: When they in turn ask about you, be ready with a 30 second elevator pitch describing your key benefits. Don’t bore people with excessive details about your company when you first meet them. Save the specifics for a second meeting or offer a brochure or business card with your website link to fully explain your company’s objective.
- Follow up: If you don’t follow up on your contacts, your networking efforts were all for naught. Within 48 hours after the event, follow up with an email thanking them for their time and suggest a way to further the conversation, through lunch, a meeting, a phone call or an invitation. Acting on the initial interest promptly, helps cement you in the other person’s mind and start building the relationship.
- Integrate your contacts with your online networking: Incorporate your real-world networking contacts into your social networking efforts. When you meet someone at an event, follow up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
- Practice makes perfect. Be persistent and don’t give up even if talking to strangers is not in your comfort zone. It will get easier as your social circle grows and you become more familiar with the regular attendees. As you get to know more people and maintain and grow those relationships, your circle expands exponentially. As you do business with your new contacts, your business will grow exponentially, too.
- Get involved. If you decide to join an organization, don’t just sit there. Join a committee or take a leadership role. By doing so, you’ll learn more, meet more people, and make yourself memorable.
Local Networking Opportunities:
- Richmond Chamber of Commerce: www.richmondchamber.com/
Contact: Mendi Goble, (859) 623-1720
- Commerce Lexington: www.commercelexington.com/
Contact: Liz Bennett, (859) 226-1603
- Madison Business Exchange: www.madisonbusinessexchange.net
Contact: Cyndi Hall, (859) 200-8481
Local Women’s Business Groups
- Professional Women’s Forum: www.professionalwomensforum.com/
- Women Leading KY: www.womenleadingky.com/
- Ladies Leads Group: www.ladiesleadslex.com/