What's your networking strategy? I know it may sound odd. Very odd, in fact. However, a well thought-out networking strategy consistently executed will likely yield positive results for your business. People like to do business with other people that they know and like. Hey, that could be you!
Here's a 5 step plan to formulating a networking strategy that will grow your business, increase your visibility and buffer you against the competition.
1. Schedule - Commit to attending a specific number of networking events, paid or free, over a given time period. For instance, I attend at least one networking event every two weeks. Commit to a schedule that works for you, research when and where events happen in your area then move to step 2.
2. Select - Your first crucial decision. Your choices here will make your networking that much better or that much worse, depending on which events you select. I recommend "networking up." Network with people who run the kind/type/size of business that you WANT to run. Here's a quiz...which event has more folks with bigger wallets who make bigger decisions: free "business after-hours" happy hour or an annual gala for a well-regarded local charity? Remember, "network up." Otherwise, you'll be stuck networking with people selling pre-paid legal services, and no one wants that to happen.
3. Strategize - Now, what do you want to accomplish at the event? Who do you want to meet? Is your elevator speech benefits-oriented, polished and perfected? It's time to develop some goals and strategies for the networking event. Research who may be in attendance, whether that's specific people, businesses or industries. Practice what you will say when someone inevitably asks, "What do you do." FYI, "I sell insurance," or "I run a bakery" or "I drive a limo" are not right answers, even if you do any of those things. Go to all networking events with ideas, memorized scripts and goals. You'll get much more out of your attendance.
4. Show Up - It's go time. So, what are you waiting for? There's no such thing as fashionably late when it comes to networking events. Get there when it starts and stay for the entire event. Look sharp, but be comfortable and confident. Meet as many people as possible while keeping a close eye out for your prioritized target contacts that you developed before the event. Stay away from alcohol and avoid double-dipping or any behavior that will lead others to perceive you as sloppy or over-indulgent. Eat before you go.
5. Shut Up - OK, it all comes down to this. This is where the magic happens. Close your mouth and open your ears so you can hear people tell you about their pain points. People love to talk about themselves, so by all means, let them discuss at length their business, challenges, family, etc. You'll receive a ton of useful information, better understand what their priorities are and be in a position to resolve their pain with your product or service. Be more interested and less interesting. Shutting up helps you achieve that.
You'll go far if you repeatedly follow all 5 steps. This is not a one-time shot type of thing. Networking is a contact sport. You've got to be out there, engaged and interested if you're going to grow your business through effective networking. But the rewards can be huge because business flows to those we know, and in-person is always always always better than email messages or the telephone.