During my time as head of the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce, I have seen many people succeed in growing a business through networking. There are several systems that these successful networkers have in common. I call these my Three P’s of Networking – Planning, Piloting and Pursuing. These Three P’s can be applied anywhere, but for the sake of this article, let’s apply them to the context of Chamber mixers.
Plan ahead of each event the type of business you wish to meet. Usually it is a potential client or a business that shares your target market without competing with you. For example, a Real Estate Broker/Mortgage Co./Home Inspector. Change your mindset from just attending an event to expecting a rate of return either through a potential new client or a referral source.
Track networking events. Chambers have websites. Find the events that will draw referral sources and clients or are being produced by organizations you wish to meet.
Be disciplined about networking. Plan to meet six to eight new people.
Plan to have a wing person – where you with another person attend a function, working for each other, doubling your efforts. You may not be able to work with a person you have just met but maybe your wing person can and you have the privilege of facilitating the introduction.
Plan to bring business cards. Your best marketing tool. Make yours stand out.
When we walk into a mixer, what do most of us do? Go up to people we already know. We all do this. We go to our comfort zones. Some of us never leave them. You are attending a mixer for the purpose of meeting new people. Only sticking with folks you already know will not grow your business. I have heard people complain about cliques. There’s no such thing as cliques, but there are comfort zone circles. Break into them. Anyone who is taking valuable time away from family, hobbies or business to attend an evening networking mixer wants to meet new people. They want to meet you! Please change your mindset on this matter. Do not be afraid to break into these comfort zone circles. I give you permission. Some of us need help initiating conversation.
Start with an introduction such as: “Hi, my name is Kay Bates. I work for McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce.” Stop here. Ask questions. Be sure to listen. Networking is for building relationships, not going for the kill.
Don’t spend a lot of time with one person. Say gently “Can I call you this week? What you have to say is important to me. I would like to talk with you further.”
Couple of tips:
• First-time attendees should ask an ambassador to take them around.
• Consider looking for easy-to-approach singles.
• Listen – we too often think about what we want to say next!
• Look people in the eye.
• Be a wing person introducing new people to others they need to know.
Some people call this follow-up. Few people do it.
Stand apart from your competition. Send a card, coupon and memorable specialty item to people you wish to know better. Consider stating you would like to discuss ways can help each other, and mean it. Call them within the week. This works well with power partners. You may find yourself sharing client lists. Pursuing client groups is a bit tougher. You may catch someone ready to change vendors, yet some may say they are perfectly satisfied with their vendor. Ask them if they will be willing to try one item with you. I rose to No. 2 in a Fortune 500 firm using this approach.
Remember the Three P’s of Networking – Planning, Piloting and Pursuing. You will be a successful networker and will stand mightily out from your competition. You will also grow your business!