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Networking … a Process, Not an Event

Successfully Expand Your Key Contacts Network and Become Memorable to Ensure Top of Mind Awareness

Remember the old life directing saying, “If you fail to plan … you plan to fail”. In this article we’ll apply that metaphor to face-to-face networking with a specific focus on developing business oriented relationships.

It’s not what you know … it’s who you know. Absolutely true, yet viewed by some as unfair and cynical. If that’s how you read it, get over it because it is proven time and again that you will enhance your success both personally and professionally by “knowing and being known”.

Building top-of-mind awareness (TOMA) through face-to-face networking is directed at your customers, prospects and referral partners – that are not necessarily currently in the market for what you sell. So, why pursue this block of unqualified leads? The simple answer is to continually build brand awareness through relationships to rank high in top-of-mind awareness when the buying decision is to be made.

Buying Decision Pie Chart by Top of Mind Communication

Users of your product or service have little reason to think about your brand until they are actively considering buying what you sell. That includes past customers, even satisfied past customers. Likewise, you may be overlooked by referral partners when they have an opportunity to introduce you to a hot prospect. That means you need to ensure your audiences knows and remembers you when there is an opportunity for you to deliver a problem-solving solution.

Remember, you or your representative is not likely to be present when the decision is made that your offering is needed. What next step do the decision-makers take? Same as you and all of us – look at each other or a trusted advisor and ask ”Who do we know that does that kind of work?” The answer will be the brand that enjoys top-of-mind awareness. Make it yours!

So, how do you enlarge your key contacts network … by networking. Networking is the art and process of building relationships with others. There are two keys to successful networking, patience and persistence.

Networking is initiating and developing quality, mutually-beneficial relationships that will endure. Therefore it is a skill that requires a long-term strategy, not one that anticipates instant results. A good guiding principle is that networking is connecting with people, not collecting people.

There are two ways to network: online and face-to-face. You are most likely familiar with the online social networking sites such as Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter. Certainly, you should have a presence on the social media sites and be diligent in keeping your postings current. That said, in this article our focus will be on face-to-face.

Here are a few tips on where to look and what to do.

First, determine your objective in networking. It may be to seek career opportunities, identify strategic partnerships, prospecting for new customers, developing referral resources or expanding your social horizons.

Reminder:  Invest your precious time only with events and groups consistent with your networking goals.

Next, create a contact list that is consistent with your networking objective. Start with your current circle of family, friends and acquaintances. You can start with an Excel spreadsheet, Outlook or another contact manager.

Include all pertinent contact information – name, title, company, website, office, email address and home, office and cell phone numbers. Then be diligent and update your list after every networking encounter whether it results in multiple contacts or a single introduction.

Alert: Don’t prejudge. Enter all contacts. Exclude no one, as you never know how a positive relationship may develop. One further thought. Everyone you meet may not be a valuable contact in pursuit of your networking goals, but may be capable to introduce you to others who are.

Finally, identify those groups that will complement your efforts to reach out to those who will be key contacts and can support your networking purpose. For example, service groups are excellent sources to develop business contacts. It will require a commitment of your time and some money, but participating is a relatively easy and proven approach to networking.

Service groups are easily identified, i.e. Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc. Certainly, visiting several is a worthwhile introduction to the world of networking and a lesson in contributing to causes without expecting immediate personal reward.

In most communities, there are a number of lesser known, unpublicized groups. For example, in Greater Richmond there is a unique networking group named WHIMBY . That’s the acronym for What’s Happening in My Back Yard. Membership is about 100 active individuals, all of whom either own their own businesses or are decision-makers. So, keep your ears open and ask around to find similar opportunities.

Two Twelve Referral Network

Another fine resource is Two Twelve Referral Network . The Two Twelve motto says it all when it comes to effective networking – One degree. It makes all the difference between Plain Hot Water and Powerful Robust, Industry-Driving Steam!

Key Takeaways

Here’s a checklist-for-success to make the most of your networking event. Caution: You are not there to sell … but rather to seek opportunities that promise reciprocal, synergistic relationships.

  • Carry and distribute your business cards
  • Develop and practice your “elevator speech” – a 30 second description of what you do for a living.
  • Don’t sell! Relate!
  • Initiate conversations … the easiest and best way is to ask the person about their work
  • Listen, listen, listen … hear what’s being said and remember it
  • Old saying, “If you don’t follow-up, you’ll foul up” – an email, handwritten note or small gift depending on the circumstances.
  • Stay in touch … ideally with information that will be valuable to the person, e.g. industry news, a new development affecting her business, etc.

Long story short … be effective and efficient in investing your networking time. Networking is connecting with people, not collecting people. And above all recognize that instant results are seldom the norm.  Networking is a process, not an event.