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First Impressions: The End All, Be All?
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Ivan Colon, business development director for Legends Limousine in Brooklyn, N.Y., subscribes to this school of thought. This means you must look and act your best at any networking function.
“If you look clean and professional, people will take you seriously,” he says. “Be confident and stand tall, because posture is huge and people will take note. Make eye contact, use the person’s name at least three times in the conversation, and remember at least one good thing about them. It’s amazing how far that will take you.”
Treat people like you want to be treated, listen more than you talk, and focus on trying to form bonds are a few ways to ensure you leave a lasting influence, says Arthur Messina, founder and president of Create-a-Card in St. James, N.Y. “Don’t sell during the introduction. If you build relationships and people trust you, you’ll do business with them.”
Being too pushy can also be a big turn off, says Kristina Bouweiri, president and CEO of Reston Limousine in Sterling, Va., who for years has advanced her company’s marketing and media fortunes through networking and participation in professional and community groups. “The best thing to do is to just be yourself. Be friendly, interesting, and share valid information that people want to hear.”
How Do I Begin?
If you want to have a conversation that yields more than just a pocket full of business cards from people you barely remember, your opening line shouldn’t be, “So, how many cars do you have?”
Finding something you have in common with the other person should be easy considering you already know you have common ground at limo shows. You should figure out what city the operator works in, discuss if you have any business in that city, and then share challenges you both have faced, Bouweiri says.
A good conversation starter could be anything from asking how long an operator has been in business to whether they are looking for a primary or secondary affiliate in a specific market, Messina says. “Make sure you clarify you aren’t looking to take business away from somebody, but don’t be afraid to ask if they need someone to help them out other than who they already have.”
Lopez says what’s more important to him is what kind of people you have working for you. “I want to know about your chauffeurs. Everyone has vehicles; it’s the chauffeurs who make the company. I would like to see the industry move more towards this kind of discussion,” he says.
Another point he makes is it’s important to be open when getting to know new operators. “We all have the same struggles. Some people don’t want to talk about it, and because of that, it’s hard to share best practices that would help each other.”
Colon adds, “I can look at your fleet online. I want to know you and what your business stands for. What’s your mission? Tell me what it is you’re great at. When you talk about these kinds of things, you become passionate and exciting, which helps pull people in.”
What Not To Do
Although you may be concerned with making a good impression, you can’t be afraid of making mistakes; you just have to get out there and interact. However, Lopez knows you should first listen and observe before making a comment.
“If you find a sharp group of operators discussing things you need help on, sit in on it. Don’t spend too much time with those who aren’t talking about new issues. The biggest mistake you can make is wasting time with people who don’t challenge you.”
Colon also believes silence is golden; in other words, when in doubt — shut up. “I don’t say that to be brash…it’s meant to save your life,” he clarifies. “As a young professional in this industry, I understand I don’t know it all. I have a lot of things to contribute and people who are intellectual, open minded leaders in this industry will recognize that.”
However, you should be careful not to open your mouth and start something you can’t finish. If there is something you have to contribute, do so. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but think before you do it.
The Great Note Taking Debate
Let’s be real: With the number of different people you meet at tradeshows and other events, it can be quite difficult to remember who’s who. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some people take notes on the other person’s business card; that’s not wrong, per se, but Colon feels it takes away from the conversation at hand.
“I know you’re trying to show interest, and the intent is there. But it means you are taking your attention off the conversation and I’m nothing but another prospect. I just believe doing that in front of a person will not give the right impression,” he says. Instead, at the end of the night he’ll go back to his room and build a list out of the cards he’s received and send out follow-up emails.
“If they aren’t interested in your services, still keep them on a general email list. Remember to send them holiday emails as well. Eventually, they’ll need your service because everyone needs four wheels,” he says.
In the initial follow-up, make sure to include information that lets them know you remember their name and what they do. “I always try to mention something we talked about it because that makes it real and gives me a lead in to the next conversation.”
You should never wait to follow-up and should do so as soon as you can; procrastination can equal wasted leads, Colon says.
Bouweiri agrees, taking a few of her employees with her to help divide and conquer. They all attend different events and often make appointments to meet with people. Within days of getting back to the office, they mail follow-up notes to their contacts that include copies of their business cards as well as $50 gift cards for their service.
“In addition to this, we take email addresses from business cards, put them into our database, and send out a weekly email to help us stay in touch and on their mind.”
Messina explains if a business card is created correctly, you shouldn’t need to write anything to remind you who they are. “The things I look for are a picture, company name, email, location or address, and airport codes. That’s what operators need when attending a local association meeting or tradeshow.”
If you need to jot down a few notes, do so after the other person walks away. “It looks a little tacky if you’re writing while the other person is speaking,” he says. “Also, if the card is glossy on both sides, you won’t be able to write on it, so you may want to bring a small note pad or sticky notes.”
Beyond Business Cards
If you’re looking for new networking opportunities beyond just shaking someone’s hand, social media offers plenty of options. More recently, platforms have become a great way to meet and talk to other industry members. Lopez says this is especially true for Facebook and LinkedIn.
“I think Facebook groups are the best way to network online, because of the sheer number of people on the platform,” he says. “However, when you are trying to network through LinkedIn, you can see a lot of your affiliate’s connections.”
It’s important to join other associations outside of your local market as well. “That way you learn about the challenges and successes of other operators, and that adds value because they may be seeing things you haven’t yet, but might soon.”
Above all, Todd Roberts, JACO Limo’s president, and Lopez, enjoy meeting, interacting, and learning from everyone face-to-face at the shows. “You have to get out and have a meal together or do other fun things to help build a bond. You feel more comfortable working with people after activities like that. It’s about repetition and learning about people over a period of time. People do business with others they know, like, and trust, and trust is built through consistency over time.”
Social networks provide an incredible way to help you deepen the conversations you have at future tradeshows, Bouweiri adds. “I may have met someone at a show a few years ago, connected on Facebook, and now two years later I know everything about them because we’ve been sharing life experiences, their kids, what they like to do in their free time, and the milestones they are reaching. You can’t go that deeply with someone at a tradeshow.”
A great point Bouweiri and Colon make is if you live in the same city as other operators, you should be socializing with them outside of work. Going out for a drink or to dinner helps the relationship evolve beyond business.
This in turn opens up opportunities to get to know who they know. “There’s a 90% chance the circle they travel in either seeps over to you or you have something in common with the ones that haven’t. I’m very confident the people in this industry have no problem helping in this capacity,” Colon says.
There’s no one thing that’s a “golden bullet,” Messina says. You need to do a little
“What works best for some might not work best for others, but you can’t just expect the Internet to be your sole source of business. You have to go back to some old school methods,” he says.
Between reservationists and chauffeurs, you have people speaking to your clients daily. “They might be able to hear something and say, ‘Would you like someone from our office to reach out to you in regards to that?’ Chauffeurs can definitely be a lead generator for you as well.”
Overall, Bouweiri says the golden rule in networking is you have to give to get, and you should do so without expecting anything in return. “If you take that approach, I’ve found it gives back 10 times.” She clarifies giving is more than just business; it’s being generous, helping people by doing favors, connecting them to others, and posting business tips you’ve learned on social media.
“If you look at the people who give in our industry, they are the ones that really stick out,” she says.
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