In today’s challenging business environment there is an increased focus on networking as a way of bringing in new business. Unlike advertising it doesn’t cost a lot and you can do it almost anywhere. Networking itself is easy but effective networking is a more challenging activity.
Before you hand out a single business card it is important to step back and think strategically about your networking activities. To being with, you should identify the type of people you want to network with – if you want to build up a network of potential customers then you should network within groups of people who are likely to buy your products or services.
Once you have identified your target market, it is time to work out who you need to meet in order to increase your chances of making a sale or getting an introduction to somebody who can benefit your business. If you are attending a networking event you should obtain a copy of the attendee list before the event and identify 3 or 4 targets you would like to get talking to. You should arrive early at the event and take time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the venue. You should take note of areas such as the buffet, coffee station or bar as these are ideal areas to get talking to your networking targets. Simply asking someone to “pass the milk” at the coffee station can be an ice-breaker which can allow you to start a conversation with your networking targets.
Your objective should be to introduce yourself to these targets and obtain their business card. Ensure that you have a good, pre-prepared 60-second pitch about yourself and your business and practice this pitch before going to the event.
The networking doesn’t stop once you walk away from the networking event with a few new business cards in your pocket. Networking is all about building relationships. New business relationships result in new sales opportunities for your firm. Therefore, you should head straight to your office and input the details from the business cards into your contact database or CRM system.
Next, you should follow up with an email within 24 hours of the networking event. Something along the lines of “great to meet you, lets catch up for a coffee in the next week or two. How does Friday suit you?”. You should also add your new contacts to your eNewsletter distribution list in order to keep in regular contact with you potential new clients.