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PUT NETWORK TO WORK FOR YOUR BUSINESS | 11 essential tips for building better business relationships
Posted By Victoria WoW March 2nd, 2013
I have a hard time talking to strangers. I don’t want to interrupt people if they are having a conversation. It seems so awkward to break into a group. Everyone seems to know each other already. Some people are so pushy- how do I get myself out of this conversation? I have to plan my entire day around networking, and sometimes I don't even meet viable contacts.
Admit it: you have participated in this internal dialogue - before, after, even during a networking event. Yes, networking can be intimidating, time-consuming, and awkward. But you already know that "word-of-mouth" is the best advertising for your business. And the best way to generate buzz for your business is to make valuable contacts who can either recommend your products and services to your target market, or become your clients themselves. There is no better way to accomplish this than by - you guessed it - networking.
But before you go scrambling off to your next event with a fistful of business cards and your elevator pitch running like a ticker tape feed in your mind, here is how to make the most of your efforts.
Women of Weddings spoke to two well-established business leaders in Victoria to ask about their networking tips. Pauline Penner, owner of Jumpstart Business Solutions, is a business advisor in Victoria who gives emerging entrepreneurs a jumpstart to get their business going in the right direction. Anna Harvey, owner of BOOST, guides individuals to choose a career path that is inspired by what they are most passionate about. Pauline and Anna enjoy a strategic business alliance;they have also collaborated to present "Networking Tips to Build Better Business Relationships" at various business events.
Pauline and Anna are firm believers that for all businesses, but especially those with a limited marketing budget, networking is absolutely crucial to building your clientele. In order to make the most out of your networking efforts, there are some simple guidelines to get you started.
First things first, Pauline says: make a plan. Know clearly who your target customer is, and find out which networking functions they are most likely to attend. Create the most positive image for your business by perfecting your elevator pitch, and then create a business card that is memorable. Because networking events are an investment of both your time and money, explore a few options to find out which ones are the best fit for your business, and then make a commitment to attend regularly. Pauline and Anna emphasize that truly effective networking is an "HVA"- a High Value Activity. This means you must build relationships over a longer period of time, not shake as many hands as you can.
When you do attend networking events, here are Pauline and Anna's noteworthy recommendations.
11 Essential Networking Tips to Build Better Business Relationships
- Create a memorable moment. When you’re off to a networking event, think in advance about how you can make a lasting impression. Examples include: wearing something memorable (but still suitable!), wearing a distinctive nametag or jewellery; or handing out an unusual business card. When you receive a person’s business card, take a tip from the Japanese: respectfully hold it for a moment, and really look at it, rather than just quickly shoving it into your wallet, purse or pocket.
- Set a goal for what you expect from each meeting. Your goals can vary from meeting to meeting. Some examples might be: learning from the speaker's topic, discovering industry trends, looking for new prospects or connecting with peers. If you work out of your home, you may find your purpose is simply to get out and talk to people face to face. Focusing your mind on your goal before you even walk into the event keeps you on target.
- Meet five or more new people at each event. Whenever you attend a group, whether a party, a mixer or an industry luncheon, make a point of heading straight for people you don't know. Greet the newcomers; they will love you for it! If you don't make this goal a habit, you'll naturally gravitate toward the same old acquaintances.
- Don't make a beeline for your seat. Frequently, you'll see people at networking groups sitting at the dinner table staring into space--half an hour before the meal is due to start. Why are they sitting alone? Take full advantage of the valuable networking time before you have to sit down.
- Don't sit by people you know. Mealtime is a prime time for meeting new people. You may be in that seat for several hours, so don't limit your opportunities by sitting with your friends. This is a wonderful chance to get to know new people on either side of you. Sure, it's more comfortable to hobnob with familiar faces. But remember, you are spending precious time and money to attend this event. Get your money's worth; you can talk to your friends some other time.
- Be friendly and approachable. Pretend you are hosting the event. Make people feel welcome. Find out what brought them there, and see if there's any way you can help them. Introduce them to others, make business suggestions or give them a referral. Not only will you probably make a friend,but putting others at ease eliminates self-consciousness. A side benefit: What goes around comes around. If you make the effort to help others, you'll soon find people helping you.
- Think in terms of approaching small groups. For many walking into a room crowded with people can be overwhelming. Rather than thinking of it as a “room full of 80 people”, think of it as “20 groups of 4.” Then make it a point to get involved with, say, just 4 groups.
- Watch the body language. The easiest groups to step into are the ones that loosely resemble the letter “V”. They are open to having you join in. Other welcoming signs to watch for are a smile and eye contact. If you see two people tightly huddled and not making eye contact with you, it’s likely they are having a more private conversation.
- Practice a few opening lines. Not all of us are extroverts! If you know you’re not going to be comfortable walking up to someone and starting a spur-of-the-moment conversation, then practice a simple opening line. For example, “Hello, may I join you for just a moment?” Or try a genuine compliment: “I really like your ….”; or “Hello, have you been here before?”
- Be willing to give to receive. Networking is a two-way street. Don't expect new contacts to shower you with referrals and business unless you are equally generous. Follow up on your contacts; keep in touch; always share information or leads that might benefit them. You'll be paid back tenfold for your thoughtfulness.
- Get active. People remember and do business with leaders. Don't just warm a chair--get involved and join a committee or become a board member. If you don't have time, volunteer to help with hospitality at the door or checking people in. This gives you a reason to talk to others.
Finally, Pauline and Anna suggest that networking activities don't stop when you depart the event. You definitely want to put some effort into following up with potential contacts you have met - preferably within a few days by phone or email, and by alluding to something personal from your interaction to ensure you come across as genuine.
Additionally, it is important to approach any daily activity as an opportunity to network. Whether you are meeting with suppliers, volunteering or even standing in line at a coffee shop, have your business cards handy. Pauline combines networking with paying it forward: she will often pay for the coffee of the person behind her in line, and simply leaves her business card with the barista to pass on to the surprised customer. Being generous, genuine, and memorable all in one simple act is an exemplary way to promote your business. That is truly the secret of effective networking.
Meet Pauline Penner at the next Women of Weddings event: Tuesday March12th, 10am-12noon at Four Points Sheraton Victoria Gateway. Pauline will be educating us on how to create and follow up on our goals.