Networking for Beginners
Networking has been given a dirty rap by some folks who heard about networking and set about throwing their card in everybody’s face, asking for leads. Thinking they were about to reach unlimited success after a few rubber chicken lunches and a few thousand business cards, these people missed the point.
Just how important is networking in the age of the Internet? It is still here and still being used by some people as their biggest source of revenue-generating business.
I’ll confess that I used to think of networking along the same vein as used car salespeople. You know all aggression, no skill? So, I avoided it! I was too darn busy to go to lunches and mixers. I had real work to do!
Then, one year, they put it on my performance review! I had to do better! So, just like anything else, I put in on my Action Plans and made myself go to meetings and I made myself do it right. I’m on the local Board of Directors for one organization now, and I truly have to say that I have gotten more business than it cost to join and go to the lunches. Plus, I have made some friends and many business contacts. And, I have learned that it can be great, not greasy!
So, my suggestion to you is to polishing up your skills (see below), RSVP for one or two of those meeting this month, and go build yourself a professional referral and education group!
Tips to Start With:
1—Check out different associations before you join any. First stop for many people is the local Chamber of Commerce. Next, try to find associations in your industry or in industries you provide product or services for. For example, if you sell Widgets, find a widget association, and then, find one that your customers or targets might belong to. Most professions and industries have associations – search the web for them. If you sell widgets to tax accountants, office managers, teachers, truck drivers, whoever, search for their associations and see if you can go to a meeting. Most will let you go up to three times without joining. Pick at least one to join.
2—Introduce yourself to people and talk to them. You are here to make friends, so be nice. Smile. Shake hands. Ask about them. Be interested in what they are saying. Do not approach anyone with your card sticking out. Cards can be exchanged after you’ve discovered a mutual reason for doing so.
3—Listen to the speaker if there’s a program. Odds are, he or she is speaking about something the membership wants to hear, something related to their business. See what you can pick up on that you can use. Perhaps you will follow up with a thank you note to the organization’s president. Perhaps you will send an email to some of the people you met, mentioning the program in your email. Follow up is a great idea. I love getting cards from people! Don’t you? Send some. A simple “It was great to meet you on Wednesday at the Chamber luncheon!” is fine. And, you can include your card!
4—Call the organization’s leadership a few days after and thank them. Tell them you are looking for organizations to join and you need more information about theirs. Ask about their members. Ask about what they see as their biggest challenge. Ask what kind of people they are targeting for members.
5—After you have picked your organization(s), be active. Go to the meetings. Write an article for their newsletter, help with fundraising or event planning. Ask a board member how you can be of service to them. They will have plenty of ideas.
6—Continue to talk to the members. Don’t sit with the same people over & over again. Mix it up, meet new people.
7—Once or twice a year, visit a different organization, even if only once or twice. You could meet a whole new group of fabulous people.
8—After you get to know someone and have a relationship with them, you can then see if they might have business for you. Sometimes, it will be on the first meeting, but not often. You can do “informational interviews” with members you’ve met—it sort of warms up an otherwise cold call. Call them up and ask if they have a few minutes to answer a few questions. If not, can you schedule another time, or can you email them? Most association members will make a little time for you. Some will become good friends and most will be new business acquaintances.