Effective networking is the foundation of successful small business marketing for service professionals. Get connected with prospects and people who know members of your target market. Use the directory of networking groups to build your list of contacts and to increase your opportunities and increase profits. College is a common bond (4 years of shared academic, social and dining experience) that can help you build your network. Contact your alumni association for a list of alumni. Most colleges share names and addresses as well as job information. Depending on your business, getting to know folks in your geographic area can be fun and profitable. Use these lists to find national and local groups that will help you meet others interested in growing their networks. Some of these groups let you search their online database to contact other members beyond those you will talk to at local monthly meetings.
For most professionals, effective networking should be a driving force, if not the central component of their marketing efforts. It is not what you know but who you know that gets you in the door. Over time, effective networking can generate a steady stream of referrals and help your business grow. Your networking strategy can largely replace cold calling, advertising and other less productive marketing efforts. Most people lack an understanding of how to network to fuel business growth or further their careers. The result is that most people spend too much unproductive time networking with friends and colleagues and have little to show for their efforts. If you are an extrovert, meeting many new people may be your idea of fun. If you are an introvert, it can be a struggle unless you understand how to network to get more clients. For most people, networking without a clear strategy is like investing by throwing darts at the stock page blindfolded. The primary objective of networking should be gain an understanding of others’ concerns and problems. Then you can make quick assessments as to whether they would have any interest in the solutions you provide.
The objective of networking is not to expound on your credentials. Most people waste the few precious moments they have with new and existing contacts by focusing on themselves. Better is to spend most of that time asking questions and collecting information. There are many effective ways to network, some far more productive than the typical personal conversation. It is more useful to have a succinct “elevator speech”, a 30-second description of the problems you solve, is an essential networking tool. Use questions to identify individuals primary concerns and at least one piece of personal information. Refer your contacts to people in your network who can solve their problems. The benefit of this approach is twofold. First, you will be seen as a problem solver, and second, those people who benefit from your referrals are more likely to provide you with referrals in return. Provide valuable information on a regular basis for free. A weekly or monthly newsletter is one way to establish your credibility. When this communication provides solutions, people in your network, further lengthening your list of contacts, will share it. Most people rely on serendipity for results. It certainly does not hurt to let people you meet know about the types of problems you solve, but if you want to get better results and increase business, target your networking. Identify the people you want to make contact with, whether prospects or potential marketing alliance partners, and make carefully researched efforts to build relationships.
This approach takes more time on your part, but it gets results. Your networking efforts will be a waste of time without effective data management. When you meet or contact people, enter the information you learn into your contact management software; make note of their interests, what you have shared with them, and when and how to contact them next. People have short memories. Follow-up regularly with members of your network or they will forget you exist and more importantly they will forget that you are the best person to solve their financial, legal, human resource, design, or other problems. Contact the people in your network in some way at least once a month.