As published by The Gaston Gazette:
(8/23/15) BELMONT, N.C. – In this fast-paced age of instant information, smart mobile devices and social media, it’s easy to overlook the art of actually talking and listening. In his book Endless Referrals, Bob Burg leaves us with a timeless quote: “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.” In our decades of experience, we’ve found that principle to hold true time and time again.
Even with advances in technology – which are certainly beneficial and give us an unprecedented global reach – you can’t underestimate the power of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking when it comes to building your business. But effective networking is more than a little chit chat and hors d’oeuvres at an occasional event. To be successful, you have to put in the time, finesse your message and be genuinely generous. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your networking efforts.
- Practice targeted networking. You might attend 15 events and walk out with 100 business cards, few of which may be helpful to you. On the other hand, you might attend two events specific to your field or attended by people you’d like to meet, and make 10 new contacts that are extremely beneficial to your business. The goal isn’t to make the most connections; it’s to make the right connections (consistently). Networking is a practice that requires an investment of time, thought and focused attention in targeted areas.
- Know your goals. In Forbes Magazine, business coach and mentor Sharon Michaels advises, “Don’t go to networking functions as a wandering generality. Know what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it and how you are going to accomplish it. In other words, what is your networking goal?” You must be clear about your networking objectives and what you hope to achieve because chances are, some powerful people are going to ask you about those objectives right out of the gate. Don’t be left stammering for an answer. If you’re unsure, do a little research and ask yourself some key questions: What is my goal? Who are my ideal connections at this event? What can I do for them? What can they do for me? What are my expectations? How much time did I invest? What were the results? Keeping goals top of mind will help you stay on task and use your time wisely, particularly for those highly sociable networkers.
- Master your elevator speech. In our media training for clients, we craft several key messages as well as an “elevator speech.” This concise, persuasive message is designed to generate interest in your business or organization, and it lasts no longer than a short elevator ride. It’s especially useful when noshing over chips and cheese at a networking event. In 20 seconds, cover who you are, creatively define your business, your specialty and what you hope to achieve. Make it brief, but impactful. Conveying impressive information with few words in a short amount of time gives you a winning and memorable edge. If you don’t know what sets you apart, find something.
- You have to give to receive. Approach every new contact with a “how can I help them?” attitude, and you’ll build both a superior reputation and a vast, reliable network. This is where the listening element of networking is essential. When you truly understand your contact’s business and the goals they hope to achieve, you have a better idea of how to help them. The more people you help with your expertise, goods or services, the more comfortable you’ll be approaching them for help later on – and they’ll likely be willing to deliver. In other words, helping others achieve their goals helps you achieve yours. It’s a little like business Karma: What goes around comes around.
- Harness the power of social media. While social media is only one aspect of your overall business-building and networking strategy, it can be hugely effective. No longer dismissed as a fad, social media carries more networking weight than ever and it continues to grow as a habit. According to SocialTimes.com, LinkedIn signs up two new members every second and has a global reach of 200 countries and territories. Its estimated number of active users is 350 million. And that’s just LinkedIn. Fast Company says 93 percent of marketers use social media for business. As you plan your social media strategy, consider which platform works best for a particular networking goal and what online communities are the best fit.
- Nurture and maintain your network. The point of networking is to create win-win relationships. And like any relationship, this takes some nurturing. Follow up with your contacts and ask them how you can help them succeed. Make notes on the back of their business cards to help you remember key facts or important information. A little sincere effort can go a long way in establishing a productive, trusting relationship.
Bear in mind, networking is not an art of instant gratification. Your business wasn’t built in a day and your network won’t be either. But with time, commitment and patience, making those connections will pay significant long-term dividends for your business.
Lyerly Agency’s President and CEO Elaine Lyerly and Executive Vice President and COO Melia Lyerly share their 35+ years of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand strategy experience with readers each month in a column published by The Gaston Gazette.