Is Your Networking Working for You?
Most of us can confess that we have stacks upon stacks or even boxes of business cards we have collected from attending networking events and meetings over the past year. You may even think that the more business cards you gather from others signify your success at networking. Well, maybe or maybe not. If you have not done anything with your stacks of business cards except put a rubberband around them and placed them in a box or drawer, then your networking is not working for you. Successful networking is all about follow-up and building long-term relationships that may yield new clients, new partners, investors, sponsors, etc. So, how do you leverage all of those first point of contacts obtained through gathering business cards while networking? Here are a few pointers on effective networking and how to manage business cards to make sure the time and money you spend attending events and meetings will yield you a positive networking ROI:
1. Shift your thinking about networking. Approach networking with a mindset of service, meaning how can you help or serve others as opposed to what you want and need from others. This posture will make you more attentive to listening to others to better understand who they are, what they do, and how you may be able to serve them. Try to avoid the need to make your initial conversations with new contacts all about “YOU” and how great you think you are. If they don’t ask, don’t offer.
2. Be prepared with your :30 elevator introduction so that when you approach new contacts during networking, you can speak intelligently about who you are, what you do, and how you may be able to help them. Be mindful to have a conversation versus selling during your introduction. A conversation is two-way, so pause to allow others to introduce themselves and add to the conversation. If they are interested in you and what you are about, they will ask more questions to continue the conversation and maybe even ask you for your business card. If they are not interested, you’ll know by their short responses and body language. Know when to close the conversation and to gracefully move on when someone is not interested.
3. Initially, do not approach a person and ask for a business card without making a proper introduction and engaging them in conversation. Wait until they express interest in you or your business before casually asking for a business card so that you can follow-up with them about what you discussed.
4. It’s easy to forget when and where you gathered a business card, so as soon as someone gives you their business card and immediately after your conversation, step away and make a note on the back of the card the date, event, and potential opportunity. This information will be helpful in organizing your contacts and following up with them.
5. Within 24 hours of receiving a business card, send a quick “Nice to meet you” or “Thanks for connecting with me” note via email or a nice handwritten note card is even better, if you have time. If the contact is someone you want to do business with then a handwritten note card will be more memorable and impressive than an email.
6. Organize the business cards into categories such as Business Prospects, Volunteers, Potential Funders/Sponsors, Partners, Media, etc. This will be helpful when you add your contacts into your email marketing platform such as Constant Contact or eChimp. You should create lists for each contact category so you can send targeted emails/announcements to your different target audiences. Make sure your new contacts receive your monthly newsletters, special event invitations or major announcements. If what you do interest your contacts then they will look forward to receiving your emails. If not, they will opt out of receiving your emails (this percentage is generally very low).
Nevertheless, frequent and consistent online and offline communication with your new contacts will provide brand awareness and/or customer loyalty, and may even yield new clients, sponsors, and partners over time. Make sure you continue to build relationships by attending events your contacts invite you to and invite them to your events. When you become aware of a personal situation with your contacts, acknowledge them by a phone call or sending a personalized card, not email. Relationships are personal first and business second. The key is to make sure you are working your network and making it work for your business.