There are essentially two ways we generate business leads, advertising/marketing or networking, and you really should be doing both.
Advertising/marketing takes some vision and money, mostly money. Networking takes time and money, mostly time.
Most of us if we are honest have more time than we have money, and we need to intelligently allocate both.
My philosophy of networking is really pretty simple….all things being equal, people do business with people they know and like, and if things aren’t equal, people will rationalize and still try to do business with the people they know and like, it’s more comfortable.
If you’re in sales or own a business, your job is to be known and liked, not just by your sales prospects but by your entire sphere of contacts which is everyone you meet everywhere, you don’t know who someone’s mother or cousin is and if someone likes you and feels they know you, they will refer you.
Let’s divide our networking into two different types, Formal and Informal.
Informal networking is something you do everywhere you go, the doctors waiting room, a bar, a family reunion….your job is to be nice to people, be interesting, let them know what you do, offer to be helpful and let them know how they can help you (all low key, basically sell yourself and don’t be annoying).
Formal networking or networking with purpose is done in a group setting and can be more structured…there are several types of groups….
Lead or Tip Clubs – Network Bethesda, Masterminds, Team Network, Select Business Teams – These clubs are probably the most structured networking. You go to these to get referrals or to create word of mouth awareness. The frequency of regular meetings is vitally important to building the trust and strong relationships that nurture these referrals. People join for the chance to interact and do business with successful business people who are group members.
Service Clubs – Rotary International, Lions Club, Kiwanis – These organizations exist as a forum for successful business people to give back to the community and the world through good works. I can’t speak for Lions but Rotary & Kiwanis meet weekly and have a large social component. Selling here will go against the grain, but again being there gives you credibility and at least the illusion of being a good and trustworthy person and people want to do business with those kinds of people. People often join these organizations with the hope of doing business with the membership and get frustrated and leave or they become involved in the charitable work at which point the business usually comes.
Chambers of Commerce (also includes The Board of Trade and some Trade Associations) – Networking within a chamber can take several different directions, actual networking events volunteerism, and committee meetings. Chamber networking works best if you combine them (you want to be one of the usual suspects and known) In a chamber setting, volunteerism is board service or leading a committee such as membership, economic development, government relations etc., here you will get to meet people who have influence and will be perceived as one of them.
When you go to a formal networking event think about what badges, lapel pins or logo apparel you wear and why…
A service or fraternal organization pin will be recognized by other members and is both an icebreaker & conversation starter as well as giving you instant credibility to certain groups. A chamber pin can be a conversation starter but might be frowned upon at a different chamber’s event – sort of like wearing the wrong team jersey at a sports event…
A name badge from Team Network or other networking groups might be useful for recruiting if that’s your goal, but is also likely to have you discounted by people in other lead groups as competition or already connected or even worse, you might be lumped in with the negative experience they had with another member of another group.
Your own company logo apparel is great as it lets people know what you do, should they be interested in your services.
If you are hand writing your name badge at an event, keep it simple your first name & your company name are enough – Print, and write big so that your badge can be read from 15 feet away.
It seems stupid to have to say this, but if you are going to a structured networking event, bring business cards, and be prepared to talk to actual strangers. You don’t need to be shy, everyone is there to meet people. If you see someone looking uncomfortable or alone and awkward, introduce yourself, be a hero and save them….if you can, ask them who they would like to meet and make an introduction.
Plan to follow up with a phone call or email within 24 hours with anyone who you would like to talk to afterwards. Remind them who you are, what you discussed…they met a bunch of people too and you might not be that memorable, or at least your name might not be.
The actual structured events are often filled with sales people like yourselves, remember even if they don’t purchase for their businesses, they know who in their company does and also who in the companies they sell to, if they like you they can help. Be nice, be helpful, be interesting and memorable, also remember sales people hate being sold to, so be low key, offer to help, and ask for help not for an order.
Volunteerism and Board Service in nonprofits or religious organizations – It’s not structured but in term of meeting prospects, you are starting with the presupposition that you are a good person and share similar goals and interests so it is a great way to meet people and quickly become close. Volunteerism especially if it involves your professional skills is a good way to build credibility.
Any of your other membership organizations are great for networking too, Political organizations, Country Clubs, Places of Worship. This is even more so if you can attain a leadership position in the organization.
Remember too that Washington is a really small town and divides up into smaller groups like Jewish Washington, Catholic Washington, Black Washington, Do-gooder Washington, etc. You will start to see the same people in other contexts at that point you can become a connector and an influencer.