Networking is Not Passing Out Business Cards
By Juanita Ecker
Networking styles can leave a lasting impression, positive or negative. Let me share two experiences that recently happened to me.
In one, I attended a networking event in which we divided into small subgroups. Each person in the group had the opportunity to explain what he or she does. After one woman gave her 10-second commercial, she passed out her business card to the rest of us in the group. I was not interested in her business, nor did I want her card. I graciously took it anyway. When we were returning to our original seats, she asked me for my card. Two days later, I received a call from this woman asking me if I would like to get together to learn more about her business.
At another event, I started up a conversation with a woman I had briefly met before. As we engaged in conversation, we discovered that we both had an interest in the "law of attraction." We enjoyed a very stimulating conversation about our beliefs and attitudes on this subject. I recommended a book that helped change my perspective. After 15-20 minutes, we exchanged business cards and agreed to meet for coffee at a later date.
Of these two people, whom do you think I am more interested in doing business with? In the first example, the woman thought that by passing out and collecting business cards, she was being an effective networker. She and I did not engage in a conversation, nor did we build any kind of rapport with each other. When she called me to ask if I wanted to get together, I was annoyed with her tactics.
In the second example, I felt as though I made a new friend. We spent quality time getting to know each other. Don't people want to do business with people they know, like, and trust? That's what networking should be-laying the foundation for a long-lasting professional relationship.
Don't be like the woman in the first example. Instead, choose to cultivate relationships with those you meet. Here are some tips for using your networking time effectively.
Join groups where your customers go
Who are your perfect customers? What type of business or social functions do they attend? Some people assume that joining the local chamber of commerce is the best use of their networking time. What kinds of industries are represented at this event? Are the people who attend those meetings your target market?
Have a networking strategy
Choose a networking event that you can attend regularly. Your financial investment in joining an organization won't pay off if you only attend meetings sporadically. Don't go to an event with the intention of making a sale or collecting a bunch of business cards. Instead, set a goal to meet three to four new contacts. Strive to have a meaningful conversation with each person you meet. Take the time to build rapport and cultivate new business relationships.
Form strategic alliances
When you form a strategic alliance with an individual, you will have the opportunity to consistently exchange reciprocal leads with each other. Identify the companies that provide a different type of service but deal with the same type of customer you do. Set an appointment with these strategic partners so you can learn about their business and they can learn about yours. Think of ways you can refer business to each other.
Approach networking from a perspective of giving
Whenever you meet new people, ask yourself, "How I can assist them with their professional goals?" Do you know of someone who is looking for their product or service? Can you share some information that might be useful to them? Can you pass along an idea that has worked for you and may help them as well? Look for opportunities to help others grow their business.
Is your "net" working? Rather than pass out business cards, cultivate long-lasting business relationships. When you do, your network will get bigger and more valuable.
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