As the economy sputters and surviving operators compete for clients, it is critical for business owners to invest in face-to-face networking. If your business is slow right now, you have no excuse not to attend industry functions, chamber meetings, or other networking events. Make networking work for you. Don’t waste time going to an event if you don’t plan to follow through all the way.
Here are some tips:
BEFORE YOU GO:
Have a plan. Realize that networking is not selling. You may eventually sell the person you are networking with, but the goal of networking is to make the contact and start the chain of communications. When I attend industry events, my goal is to always make at least three new contacts. Typically, I make many more than that but I set the goal of three.
Practice your “Elevator Intro.” Basically, you want to be able to tell a person who you are and what you do within the first 30 seconds of the intro. “Hi, I am Linda Moore, the East Coast Editor for LCT Magazine. We are the leading magazine in the Limousine, Charter and Tour Industries.” I will also follow it up with, “Have you read our magazine?” This will lead to further dialogue.
Understand “business card” etiquette. When someone gives you a business card, you are expected to look at it. Reading the name of the company and the person who gives you the card helps you to remember them.
Understand the etiquette of the meetings you plan to attend. Some groups do not let you hand out materials or even business cards at meetings. Know what the protocol is before you attend.
SHAKE, DON'T BREAK, HANDS — AND NEVER SAY “TALK TO THE HAND”
Learn how to shake hands. There is nothing worse than a mushy hand shake from a man or a woman. That’s right ladies; you too need to shake properly. Firmly grip the outstretched hand and shake. Don’t squeeze so hard that you break the other person’s hand but don’t go at it mushy either — GRIP, don’t slip.
Look the person in the eyes. Making eye contact is important as it begins to establish trust between people. I don’t like people who won’t look at me when we meet. I feel as if they have something to hide or are being shifty. I don’t want to deal with shifty people. Don’t shake too hard or too long. This should be obvious but….
NOW YOU ARE READY TO GO
When you arrive, greet the people who check you in. If you don’t know them, introduce yourself. Most events are staffed by volunteers who help by manning registration. These are some of the folks you want to meet. Don’t lose the opportunity when the audience is captive to introduce yourself. Also, people remember the friendly face at the desk. If you have never been to the meeting before, tell that to the people checking you in. They may be able to introduce you to a friendly person who will make it easier for you to meet people.
If you haven’t made the contact with a champion, no worries. Scope out the room. Avoid holding a coffee cup or drink during the networking portion of the meeting because it makes it more difficult to shake hands and read business cards. I always zero in on the person who is standing alone. I approach him or her and introduce myself. This takes practice. Once you have done this a few times, though, it is easy.
If someone gives you a card, you may want to add notes to it immediately after you’re apart. For example, “Woman with red hat who travels weekly to Chicago.” This will help you remember the person and will allow you to have a reference when you follow up after the meeting.
Have separate pockets for business cards. Keep yours on one side and the ones you get in the other.
Don’t monopolize any one person’s time too long. It is easy to latch on to a friendly person and stay attached especially when you are uncomfortable. Avoid doing this. When the opportunity arises for you to leave, excuse yourself and move on. Have a move on line. You might say, “It was nice meeting you. I hope we will have a chance to talk again soon. I will let you say hello to others. Will you excuse me?”
Try hard to remember people’s names. This is very difficult when you are meeting many new people. I work hard at this so that the next time I meet them I can remember them and address them by name. It’s okay not to the first couple of times. I always say in those instances, “I’m sorry I can’t remember your name but we met at the ILCT show last year. You own a business in Maine.” If you can at least remember where you met and what you discussed, it goes a long way.
A great technique that I use to remember someone is to find one good thing about them that you can say you like and visualize it. “I love his glasses” or “He has a great smile.” You don’t need to say it aloud but just think it. (You can say it if you would like to but it is not necessary for this exercise).
This does two things: 1) It keeps you positive about the person; 2) It gives you something unique to associate with them which will help trigger your memory.
If you are sitting theater style, make a point of introducing yourself to the person on either side of you and in front and in back. This is easy. Turn to them and say hello.
AS YOU ADVANCE
If I am in a room with people I already know, I try to quickly say my hellos but move on to those I don’t know. My goal at these meetings is to at least say hello and introduce myself to everyone in the room I haven’t met. Sometimes this is tough.
One technique for meeting lots of people at one time if time doesn’t allow one on one meetings is to table hop. I love to stop at a table and say, “Hello ladies. I am Linda Moore the East Coast Editor for LCT Magazine. Here are some of my cards. I hope we can get a chance to speak after the speakers are through but if not, don’t hesitate to call or email me. I would love to hear from you.” This shows that I am open to those calls or notes and it allows me to reach lots of folks at one time. I have gotten lots of emails as a result of doing this.
Meeting the unapproachable person. There is always a “big wig” in the room who I think it might be nice to meet, but they are always encircled by those who feel the same way. I often solicit the help of someone else. I’ll say, “Do you know Dawson Rutter of Commonwealth? Could you introduce me?” If they don’t, they might point you to someone else who does or you may need to find someone else. Watch the people who are surrounding that person and see if you know any of them and then later approach them to make the intro.
AFTER THE MEETING Follow up with everyone you meet. Yes, everyone. Send a quick email saying how nice it was to meet them. You might want a generic first paragraph and then a more specific second. I avoid sending the same note to everyone as I think it is tacky. It doesn’t take that long to write a quick email and it should be built into your networking plan. I attended a New England Livery Association meeting Tuesday night. Before I was back in my office on Wednesday, I had six networking emails. I was impressed.
Stay in touch. Once you start a dialogue with people, keep it up. It’s easy to lose track of people. I periodically go through my contact list and scan it for the folks I haven’t spoken to in a while. Then I drop them a quick note saying that I haven’t seen or heard from them in a while.
Keep up your attendance. The reason some people are successful at this is truly because they show up. I go to association meetings weekly and it amazes me how many people are what I call “one and done.” Showing up only once won’t net you much. Become a friendly, familiar face. Be active and participate.
Networking should be fun. Don’t make it a chore. Go at it with enthusiasm. You might be surprised what it results for you.
LCT EAST SIDEBAR: Put Your Plan Into Practice — Now
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The LCT Eastern Conference will bring the first-ever Affiliate Speed Meet, modeled after the modern speed-dating phenomenon.
The fifth-annual LCT Eastern Conference to be held Oct. 7-8 at the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Uncasville, Conn.
The Affiliate Speed Meet will be a quick-fire introduction between networks and operators looking for referral business. Twenty networks (those with business to give) will be stationed around the room staffed by their affiliate managers or other top-level personnel. Each 40-minute round will position 40 operators (those looking for business through referrals) with two per network table.
Once the event begins, each operator will have two minutes per table to introduce themselves and quickly discuss their needs. After two minutes, the buzzer will sound and the operator will move to the next network table. NO LINGERING! You’ll have plenty of time later to discuss the details.
After each 40-minute round, we’ll take a break and get ready for the next group of operators.
For more detailed information on the Affiliate Speed Meet and how to sign up, go to http://www.lcteast.com/.