By Michael Hepworth
Networking is the marketing tool of choice for many business owners, but many are only mildly effective at it, resulting in a huge wasted opportunity. Street smart business owners looking to raise money for a new business or looking for clients to improve cash flow, constantly find ways to optimize every marketing dollar and every marketing activity. Here’s how you can optimize your networking.
I recently conducted a very unscientific mini survey with a small number of business owners who told me their principle marketing tool was networking. I asked them why they use networking as their marketing tool of preference. Based on what I heard, I have come to the conclusion that most like it because it doesn’t really feel like work and in most cases it is non-pressured and non-threatening. It obviously works because some people have built successful businesses that way.
I too like networking, but am seldom content with meeting people and swapping business cards. This may seem like work, but it seldom yields anything other than modest results. Time is your scarcest resource and also the most perishable. You use just as much time working ineffectively as you do when working more effectively, but with some key networking skills, you can get a much greater return on your time investment. If you go to a networking meeting and only generate one lead per hour or generate 5 or 6 leads per hour your time investment is the same. I want to get the best return on my time investment I can.
I was at a recent networking meeting, where we were seated in tables of 8-10 people. Each of us was given the opportunity to introduce ourselves, say what we do for a living and tell people who we wanted to meet. I’m sure you have been to meetings like this yourself.
At our table we had a real mix. We had 2 consultants, several CEOs of start ups, an internet hosting service and a writer. Most people offered the most boring traditional; undifferentiated introductions, some of them lasting several minutes. They started with their name and simply waffled on about all of the things they do. Most people lost me after their names and what they did. Their introductions were generally passionless, un-focused, made them sound generic and in most cases, unless you were looking for those specific services, would have had no impact.
Next time someone introduces himself in a business environment, listen and see whether you agree with me. Are you guilty of introducing your self in this way? What’s it costing you if your introduction is like that?
They mistakenly think the broader the appeal the more likely they are to attract business, however the opposite is true. People want to deal with specialists and experts. So the key to an effective introduction is to use something short sharp and highly targeted that positions you as an expert. 30 seconds is all you need, if you know who your target audience is and what you create for them.
For example I am describing my current business as follows. We reduce nature’s crude oil production cycle to a few hours and do a better job. We end up with an ultra-clean sustainable synthetic liquid fuel/biocrude that leverages existing fuels refining and distribution infrastructure.
It may not be perfect, but how much more likely are you to get an interested response from an introduction like that, than simply describing all the products and services you sell? If you can make garbage and fuel sound interesting, you can certainly make your new business idea sound stimulating.
The second mistake is not telling your contacts the kind of people you want to meet. The person you may be talking to is not always going to be a suitable prospect, but may be able to introduce some prospects to you. So my insurance friend could say something like; “I want to meet CEO’s or senior execs of companies that could be potential strategic partners. Ideally these would be chemical or oil companies. Do you know anyone who I might be able to help?”
I also like to offer to send something of value to the people I meet. This is usually some piece of information that they might be interested in or find useful. Sending this gives me two contacts with the person in a short time frame, increasing the likelihood that I will be remembered and a reason to stay in touch if I want to. It sets me up as giver, not simply a taker. One of the laws of human nature is that people are more likely to reciprocate, if you first give them something useful.
Street smart business owners know networking is important and how to wring the maximum benefit out of every networking opportunity. How many ways could you improve your networking skills?
Michael Hepworth is a serial entrepreneur, with a history of successful start-ups and exits. His newest venture is Alternative Fuels Corporation. www.alternativefuelscorp.com
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