Death by Networking

Happy business people standing and talking to each other.

Like many businesspeople, I frequently attend networking events.  I belong to two chambers of commerce, and I occasionally attend events held by two other chambers. I belong to two “innovation” professional associations. In the past, I was a long-term member of a “networking” or “leads” group.

I belong to these groups to meet people or be introduced to people who might be prospects for my services, but also attend to find people who can sell me products and services I need to buy.

But just being a member doesn’t do much to further my business goals. Sure, my name shows up in the membership directory, but that’s about all. To meet people, I’ve got to attend various functions – breakfast or lunch meetings, “business-after-hours” events and expos where businesses showcase their products or services in trade-show type booths.

In addition to attending these events, I actively serve and have served as an officer, member of the board of directors, committee member and chairman. It’s quite an investment in time and effort, plus a reasonable amount of money for dues, lunches and breakfasts.

Does it pay off? I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t. I track where my leads and my sales come from, and I can tell you that, for me, networking is the single most effective way to attract new clients. But my business is different from yours. My clients are mostly business people. Most of your business is consumer, but I strongly believe networking should be equally effective for you because you can meet prospects at all sorts of events.

  • Join your local chamber of commerce – You will meet people who, in general, have above average incomes (often well above average) and take good care of their homes and offices.
  • Find a “leads” or “networking” group to meet the same demographic as the chambers. The focus of these groups is to exchange leads or referrals.
  • If you belong to a religious group, a special interest group (think of a car club, gardeners group, dance club, PTA and your kid’s soccer team) attend their events with some business cards.

Realize that almost every one of the people you meet is a prospect for your services. They have homes with carpets, floors, tile and upholstered furniture, plus most have the disposable income to hire you.

But, for networking to be a worthwhile investment of your time, energy and money, you must do more than just fill out a membership form and pay dues. You must attend and, even better, become active so you can meet people, earn their trust and have the opportunity to market to them.

You’ve got to show up and speak up.

So, imagine you’ve gone to a networking event for the first time. You don’t know anyone there. Everyone else seems to be engaged in conversation, having a good time, and there you are with sweaty palms and a pocket full of business cards trying to avoid “death by networking.” What do you do?

You can either make a hasty retreat back to your car, or you can take a deep breath, walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. It’s easier to do if you can initiate conversation while in line for food or beverages. You can always open the conversation with a quip about the food (“Wow! Miniature hot dogs, my favorite!”), the weather (“It’s so beautiful out it makes me forget that we’ll have winter in three months!”) or sports (I’m near Chicago so “How about those Cubs?”)

If the event is a sit-down lunch affair, find an empty seat, sit down next to someone and introduce yourself. Sooner or later someone asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I have been amazed at how unprepared most people are when introducing themselves. They usually blurt out their commodity-title: “I’m a banker, an insurance broker, a lawyer, a web designer, a carpet cleaner.” Very few have a well-crafted, practiced answer that quickly identifies their occupation, their specialization and the benefits of being their client.

Instead of telling what you are (your job title), describe the results of what you do… and say it in one short, easy to say, easy to understand phrase. Craft this introductory phrase so that the person you are talking with thinks, “Yeah, I’d like that.” Now, they will never tell you, “I want that,” but they will say something like, “How do you do that?”

When you hear that question you can tell them about your company culture and your commitment to quality, value and customer satisfaction, which can then segue into a success story. Make it a story about saving the carpet for a family with a new puppy with an upset stomach or the big wine stain you removed and they’ll understand the benefits.

Remember no one wants to hire a carpet cleaner. What they want it to be proud of their home and that means they need their carpets cleaned. They also want the company they hire to be committed to satisfying their needs.

In far less time than it took me to type this paragraph, you should be able to impress upon the person you just met that you are the person they want to clean their carpets.

But don’t think that you’ve got a new client yet. Thinking that is “death by networking!”

Impressing your prospect and exchanging business cards is only the front end of a successful networking campaign. Realize that it might be months or even years before that person is in the market for your services. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, so I’m not very likely to remember the person I spoke to for a minute or two at a meeting six months ago. This is why you have to follow up with the people you meet.

If you get their business card (and you should!) you probably have their email address. Send them a short, “nice to meet you” email note with a personal discount offer for a limited time.

Then start a regular email campaign by sending monthly or quarterly short, punchy updates on new equipment you have, new techniques you learned, new staff members and some home maintenance tips. As you build up their knowledge of you and your company you will increase your chances of getting a phone call the next time they are in the market for your services.

If you want to grow your customer base, become a power networker. Get past being that tongue-tied, sweaty-palm person who stands in the corner and craft a bold introductory statement, a secondary quality statement and a few memorable stories. Your cell phone probably has a recording function so practice these statements until you are at ease and sound natural.

You’ll see that chamber of commerce meetings and youth soccer games are really business-building opportunities instead of dangerous places where you should rightly fear, “death by networking!”

Larry Galler is a business coach and columnist who works with business owners to create marketing and management breakthroughs. He offers Cleanfax readers a free, exploratory phone conversation to discuss overcoming business challenges. To schedule your phone conversation email [email protected].  Put “Explore” in the subject line.

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