Thanks to technological advances, business has been transformed forever. Websites, ecommerce, online marketing, online communities and web-based content can all serve to enhance a company’s bottom line.
Web marketing has become such an effective tool for businesses that many businesses have forgotten the importance of face-to-face human interaction.
While a great website or a well-written blog have the ability to put a human face on a company, there is still much to be said for the importance of face-to-face human interaction.
WHERE TO NETWORK
Virtually every industry has associations and virtually every industry association holds events. They can be annual meetings, regional meetings, sub-specialty events or even pure networking events.
Make sure that your key executives attend these events. If possible, try to have your key executives present to the conference as either a keynote speaker or as a panelist. Once you’ve established yourself as an expert among your peers, the word gets out and business flows in!
EVENTS OUTSIDE OF YOUR INDUSTRY
When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton reportedly said “Because that’s where the money is!”
Attending events geared toward your target client audiences is the networking equivalent of robbing banks.
While it’s nice to “schmooze” with people in your industry, it can be far more profitable to meet people in industries that can use your services. That’s why insurance companies attend medical conventions, why law firms attend corporate conventions and why web developers attend conventions in the industry verticals they serve.
CHARITY, SERVICE AND PRO BONO EVENTS
There are many reasons for attending charity events and/or giving time to service organizations. First and foremost, it is important to give something back to the community… to the world.
On a business level, though, involvement in such groups can often lead to making terrific contacts. Any time people are in a social situation, the topic of work invariably comes up and such conversations can be very, very productive.
HOW TO NETWORK
There is no single way to network. Every person has a different personality, a different style. The biggest mistake is trying to be someone who you aren’t. As in any social situation, if you are not being yourself, people will see right through you.
While we all have our own styles, there are a few universals to networking:
- Networking is a two-way street: While you want to get your company’s message out to the world, make sure you spend at least as much time listening to others. Every business can use partners and many terrific business alliances have been made at networking events.
- Be civil: Just because someone can’t be of immediate help to your business, don’t blow them off. Business relationships are often built over years. Even if someone doesn’t appear to be of immediate help to you, don’t be rude, don’t brush them off. People frequently move from company to company. Someone you meet at this week’s event may turn out to be next year’s client… or colleague.
While this may sound obvious, bring enough business cards! Business cards are a relatively small investment- never put yourself in a position where you run out in the course of an event. It makes a terrible impression.
HOW TO FOLLOW-UP
Speaking of business cards, too many people just put them in a pile when they are done collecting them. Obviously, you are not going to do business with everyone whose card you’ve taken. As a rule of thumb, within 24 hours of collecting business cards at an event, I try to:
- Sort and Classify
- Priority: These are cards from people I feel I can do business with immediately or in the near future
- Possibility: These are cards from people where there could be professional synergies, but there is no immediate prospect of involvement
- No Chance: These cards can be from terrific people, but they are not professional contacts.
- Respond: No matter which category people end up in, you should make a point of trying to respond to all.
- Priority: Don’t let the opportunity slip. Propose a firm time for further discussions.
- Possibility: Keep the channels of communication open. Suggest a follow-up in a few weeks.
- No Chance: Drop a polite “It was nice meeting you” e-mail. You never know if you will cross paths under different circumstances.
- Follow-up: Make sure you keep the contact information well organized. If you can, enter each person into a contacts database. Use the contact information for personal communications and for news about your business.
While LinkedIn, Facebook and other online social media platforms are conducive to attracting, establishing and maintaining business relationships, there is still nothing like fact-to-face interaction.
Well-honed networking skills will land you new business, new clients and even new colleagues. You might even enjoy yourself!