A packed crowd once again turned out for the Chamber's monthly Brown Bag Lunch & Learn session. This month ActionCoach Bill Gilliland offered tips for making the most of networking opportunities.
Bill proposed that networking should always be part of a marketing plan. How much focus and energy you devote to networking depends both on your business and your personality. Being successful in your networking efforts depends on your being confident and prepared.
"The first thing you need to do is prepare a networking strategy," Bill said. "Just showing up isn't enough." A networking strategy should include your overall goal for the event such as how many people you'd like to meet, a plan for what networking opportunities you plan to attend and what you want to get out of the connection.
Secondly, have questions prepared and practiced. Look for a common bond. A networking event is a good place to start the relationship - to engage, not to sell.
Observing is also key to success at networking events. Gilliland suggests looking for influencers in the room. Even if they are not in your target market they can help you get to your target market. Also, approach an individual or group when they are open. If you jump in to soon, you will have a hard time entering the conversation or being well received.
It is also important to be assertive. Give out your cards when asked for them. "Being assertive means asking for the next step," Gilliland said. That next step might be asking to meet them for coffee, adding them to your database or just encouraging them to stop by your business.
The most important thing you can do is follow up - right away. Keeping track of contacts can help you manage your follow up efforts. The group reiterated that you don't need a complex system for follow up. A notebook or accordian file can work. The key is to find a system that works for you and keep up with it.
"Continue to invest in yourself - that's how you'll grow your business."