Face to Face Networking: The Beginning to Long Term Engagement
With the holidays in full swing, small business owners are trying to finish up year end tasks; accounting, taxes, marketing plans, goal setting and reviewing analytics to set the pace for the New Year. Over the last few weeks, I have had interesting conversations with business owners about how they grow their customer base. I have heard everything from word of mouth and industry associations to social networks and paid advertising. I always believe the best is a combination of all of these. I also see the need for more business owners to get out and meet people in a face to face capacity, creating a better strategy for long-term engagement.
As I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that networking has many moving parts, but when you combine a few of them, the end result is better. Like a perfect cocktail, the right amount of alcohol, with the right amount of mixer and ice can produce something truly worth savoring.
If I were creating a cocktail, I would take these 3 ingredients: Face to Face, Social Network Connections and Follow-Up. It is up to you to tweak the amounts to see what works.
1 Part – Face to Face (Ingredient 1)
The first thing you have to do is go out and meet people. I hear business owners say that they find new business through word of mouth. Word of mouth is nice but people still have to see you. There is a lot of truth to “putting a face with a name”. I know networking can be difficult, boring and for some “a complete waste of time.” But it is necessary from time to time if you want people to learn more about what you do.
If you don’t want to attend your standard networking event, then try a few other things.
- Teach or Speak: I teach digital marketing and branding strategies 3-4 times a month for local businesses and corporations. It puts me in front of 20-30 people who are eager to learn something new in social media marketing and engagement. I get to introduce myself and talk about what my business offers, brand myself on all my presentations and literature and talk about some of my customers and clients, which gives them a free plug. After the session, attendees will normally connect with me online. In the end, I get more introductions and connections than during a networking event, and I get to put a face with a name.
- Volunteer or Support a Cause: By reaching out in the community or through a larger organization, you have the opportunity to meet many different people. It’s more casual and you can network through making a difference. I used to volunteer for the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, MA. The director of the tournament sat on my Chamber board for a number of years. I had the opportunity to volunteer in one of their corporate suites and made great connections with vendors as well as attendees.
- Take a Course, Class or Educational Training: There are many opportunities to attend quick seminars and courses which match you with other businesses looking for the same information. They become casual networking events as you get to speak with people before, during and after the session. I always have my attendees introduce themselves during my classes so that I have a better understanding of who they are, what they do and attendees can make a connection during class, too. The best networking opportunity I ever had was during a cooking class in Maine. Who would have thought?
- Attend your Reunion: Before you say, NOT for ME! I recently attended my high school reunion and was amazed with the great connections I was able to re-establish as well as follow-up with after the event. I connected with a number of spouses of my classmates and have learned that I have quite a few “influencers and connectors”.
1 Part – Social Network Connections (Ingredient 2)
After you have met numerous people, identify who you want to connect with and follow up in your social networks. This is a great opportunity to make a direct connection, especially in Linkedin. You don’t have to ask for people to connect you. Recently, I have met people who don’t use Linkedin that often and have asked to connect on Twitter and Facebook. There are two things you will get out of this process, a personal brand and corporate brand perspective. On Linkedin, you can learn more about their professional background from education to positions in different companies. Endorsements and recommendations will show you how others view this new connection. On Facebook or Twitter, you may find the transparent side, showing more of a person’s personal traits. I find by learning more about a person personally it gives me the chance to create next steps for better engagement. My best advise is to connect in a network they use. It gives you the opportunity to show up in their feed and remain top of mind.
1 Part – Follow-Up (Ingredient 3)
You’ve been introduced, you’ve connected with them on-line, now what? Start thinking about how you can begin to become top of mind…and PLEASE – Don’t make the next few opportunities about a sales or marketing pitch. Think about grabbing coffee, or a quick bite to eat. A neutral location is always nice. Learn more about what motivates this individual. You can do this on a personal level as well as a professional level. Today, we need to have anywhere from 15-20 touch points or opportunities to share information about ourselves as well as our products or services before people feel a connection. Some touch points can be:
- Be Resourceful – Even if it’s not about your product or service. What can you do for this individual? Is there a person who might benefit from an introduction? Is there a problem you can help them solve?
- Comment, Like and Share – People LOVE engagement. When you start commenting, liking and sharing their information online, people reciprocate. This is beneficial for all parties.
- Be Respectful and Create Trust – You don’t have to sign them up for your e-mail newsletter the night you meet them. Don’t bombard them with your products and services. Allow the process to happen. If you are being transparent about your approach, there will be an opportunity to ask. Respect and trust will take you a long way.
- Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat – This isn’t a one shot deal, it’s a continuous process. The more comfortable you get with it, the easier it is to meet people and connect. You will begin to see results as you engage and continue to become a resource or influencers for them.
Today, we need to take the long term approach when it comes to networking. It’s a commitment to regularly going out and meeting people, following up through on-line or social networks, learning more about their personal and corporate brand and figuring out how you can stay top in their mind.
Many small business owners will say, “And when do you expect me to run my business?” If growing your business is a priority, then working some form of networking into your marketing plan is important. People need to KNOW you, LIKE you and TRUST you before they will TRY or BUY any of your products or services as well as ADVOCATE for what you do.
Pull your seat up to the bar and I’ll mix you your first networking cocktail.