Business Networking is probably the most effective and least expensive marketing method you can use to build your business or brand, especially if you do business in your local area. Some of Lowell MA area business owners and practitioners I talk to say that they don’t like to network or they haven’t found it to be effective. That’s probably because they don’t know how to do it or they may have unrealistic expectations about the timing of results. I do a lot of business networking both online and face-to-face. As a natural people person who likes to talk, networking is relatively easy for me. But even if you’re a bit on the shy side or have reservations about the potential for success with networking, you can gain value from this activity if you follow certain guidelines.
1. Don’t get bogged down in your own industry groups.
Although they can be helpful, don’t spend much time with people in your own field because they don’t need your services; they are usually your competitors. Instead, seek groups that bring together an array of industries and perspectives like the BNBA. The big message is to get out from behind your office desk. You should be your own brand ambassador because no one is more passionate about your business than you are.
2. Building relationships takes time.
Follow up is imperative, but easier said than done. When you meet a person who you think will strengthen your business network, you should be in touch at least once a quarter. Send something relevant and of value to them. This takes planning, discipline and creativity. Eventually you will be on their radar. If we asked your top five prospects, “Who wants your business,” and they cannot name you or your company, then you will never get their business.
3. Get involved in a big way.
If an organization is worth your time, you should be right in the middle of the action. Seek to serve on their boards and committees. Otherwise, drop out. When you are all-in, you will build relationships that matter. People will see how you work when you are at your best. These types of relationships build trust and friendships that almost always lead to business opportunities.
4. Dress appropriately and professionally.
Establish yourself as a successful person, which you can do by dressing the part. This does not mean that you need to wear expensive clothes, but do wear something a bit on the dressy side and leave the comfortable baggy pants at home. If necessary, get advice from an image consultant.
5. Ask questions and listen.
You don’t have to talk a lot about what you do in order to find potential customers. Rather, ask people you meet questions about them and their business, then listen carefully to their answers. Find points of commonality that you can bring into the conversation.
6. Give to get. Pay It Forward
Focus on what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Perhaps you know someone who could use your prospects services. If you do, make the referral. Business Networking is a process, not a one-off event. Take the time to develop relationships with people who interest you. Be proactive and invite someone to a one-to-one meeting so you can get to know them. Remember that most business owners and practitioners are looking for connections. Be bold and step forward into their world.