Lisa Manyon, Guest Author
No matter what business you are in, you also have a second job… you are a marketer. That means you are responsible for letting others know about how you can help them. One of the best ways to get those opportunities to convert prospects into customers is by networking. Here are some simple strategies for making your networking more effective.
1. Don’t describe what YOU do.
For example, when someone asks me, “What do you do?” my first thought is almost always to explain, “I’m a writer and consultant.” Unfortunately that response rarely piques the interest of potential clients. Instead I’ve learned to answer, “I POWERFULLY communicate business messages to get results.” This answer not only grabs their attention but stimulates more questions about how I might help that particular prospect.
Action item: Develop your value response to the question, “What do you do?”
2. Turn interest into appointments.
Once you have developed your value response to the action item above, you are well on your way to more effective networking. When you describe what you can do for a potential client they are more likely to be interested in what you do. After all, it’s all about WIIFM – What’s In It For Me!
My friend Ray is a dynamic individual. Coincidentally he runs Interlink a faith based organization. I recently overheard someone ask Ray what he does. Ray quickly replied “I help seniors and others stay in their homes as long as possible.” The person asking the question was immediately touched and wanted to know more. By providing just enough information to increase curiosity, Ray quickly gained interest and a new volunteer for his organization. Ray also learned of a senior in need through this interaction.
You can follow this same strategy. Always provide information that is of value even if the prospect doesn’t schedule an appointment or need your services right now. The idea is to partner with customers to help them – not to trick them into services they may not want or need.
Action items: Develop a response to further inquiries about your business or service and provide valuable information to potential customers that helps turn interest into appointments.
3. Give prospects more than they expect.
Sure, your time is valuable but so is the time of your potential customer. Maximize the effectiveness and value of your initial meeting by offering to meet pro bono (or for free). While I don’t advocate giving services away for free, a complimentary initial meeting is a good way to find out if your services are right for the customer…and if the customer is right for YOU.
Recently, Wade, an investment services broker contacted a marketing specialist to discuss ways he could increase his client base. The marketing specialist granted Wade a complimentary ½ hour consultation and could have suggested all kinds of advertising and marketing placements that would have cost Wade lots of money. Instead, the savvy marketing specialist detected that it would be more beneficial for Wade to build networking skills and work on individual relationships to increase business. During this complimentary meeting both parties quickly assessed that they could probably work together in the future but the timing wasn’t quite right. Wade was grateful for the honest assessment and has since begun building relationships via the local Chamber of Commerce. When he’s ready to put together a marketing campaign, Wade knows who he’ll call.
Action item: Consider offering brief complimentary consultations to evaluate if you are a good fit with a potential customer.
4. Can’t assist? Try to provide a referral source.
Let’s face it. There will be customers you cannot help because their needs don’t fall within the scope of the services you provide. It’s a given. There will also be customers you don’t want to work with (which is why the initial consultation is so important). Regardless of why you won’t be working together, provide a reference to someone else who might be able to help if you can. This simple gesture continues to position you in a place of value.
Often if I have an initial consultation and find they need services I don’t provide (or if we are simply not a good fit), I keep a list of contacts handy so I can refer them elsewhere. I try to provide at least three contacts so they have a variety of providers to choose from. Yes, I even refer to other writers and consultants. I have found this actually helps rather than hurts business. I believe there is enough business to go around.
Action item: Develop a list of referral sources you can provide as added value to customers you can’t assist.
5. Collect and share business cards.
This may seem simple but oftentimes even network savvy people forget to gather business cards. Make sure to have a supply of your own cards on hand and trade cards with contacts you meet. It’s a good idea to make specific notes for future recall on the back of the cards you collect.
For example, I recently met an investment broker. So I would remember our
conversation, I discreetly made notes on the back of his business card when
we were done speaking. I also noted he was an avid golfer. Now when I pull
up his card, it jogs my memory about our conversation. You never know when the information might come in handy.
Action item: Make sure you have your own business cards on hand at all times. Start collecting cards when networking and noting possible projects and interests on the back of business cards. Consider creating notes in a “tickler file” if the cards are two sided leaving no room for notes. Staple your notes to the card itself.
6. Remember to follow up.
It’s the easiest yet most neglected step of networking. Many people miss out on future opportunities by simply not following up on leads.
Make it a habit to put aside time after a networking event to follow up with your new prospects. Once you get used to this step, it will become second nature. Enter their contact information in whatever filing system or software program (ACT or e-mail) you use. Now you can choose to send a quick email letting them know how much you enjoyed meeting them and/or send a handwritten note (include some additional business cards). Even if a person isn’t interested in your services right now, you want them to keep you in mind for future projects or referrals.
Action item: Take a moment to follow up with a prospect today. The time it takes to write a note and the small investment of a stamp could pay off mutually in the future.
7. Continue to follow up.
While you don’t want to inundate people with unwanted contacts, you do want to make sure potential customers know you are thinking of them. The key to continuous follow up is to be genuine.
One way to subtly follow up without being a pain is to be on the lookout for articles or information that may be of interest to the potential customer. Clip it out and mail it or e-mail to them with a brief note letting them know you’re thinking of them. About one week later, give them a quick call to make sure they received the information.
Action item: Choose one prospect and send him or her an article of interest today. Make a note to follow up with a phone call in one week. Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response. After all, you are providing something of value for nothing.
8. Don’t forget your friends and family.
When you’re running your own business, it’s easy to get caught up in day to day operations. It’s also easy to forget some of our best references and (possibly even clients) are our friends and family. Be sure to keep in touch and let them know what you’re trying to accomplish.
I was recently visiting a childhood friend, Karen. We’ve been friends since we were five years old. Though we keep in touch via e-mail and letters we only see each other every few years because we live in different states. Over dinner, I learned that Karen is in the initial stages of planning a new business venture. I was able to share more about my own business and we found that we’ll be able to help each other. Karen needed resources for completing a business plan as well as help with marketing ideas. While she knew that I was doing freelance writing projects, she didn’t know that marketing and advertising plans are one of my specialties.
Action item: Never assume that everyone knows and understands what you are doing. Make a list of friends and family who may not be aware of what you do professionally. Send them a personal note along with business cards to ask for their help in prospecting. They could inadvertently become your top sales people.
9. Always thank your contacts for referrals and projects.
One of the first things we’re taught as children is to say “please” and “thank you.” Oddly enough it’s one of the first things that many business people forget.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset you are providing a valuable service and doing the work itself is enough. This is simply not true. People need to feel appreciated and valued when you let them know they are appreciated and valued. Continue to build relationships even after the sale by sending thank you cards and / or gifts. A little kindness will go a long way. Also, don’t forget to thank those who have done work for you.
Action item: Recall someone you have worked with lately you haven’t thanked. Then follow up right away.
Bonus Item: Thank you!
Thank you for taking the time to invest in yourself and your business. In the spirit of offering more than is expected here is a final networking tip.
Join organizations that help you connect with likeminded people who want to succeed. You can visit http://www.yahoogroups.com to find these types of groups. Or do a search using http://www.google.com for areas of interest. Check out professional business groups you are eligible for locally. Chambers of Commerce are often a great source for networking. (If you’re a writer I can highly recommend the National Association of Women Writers. Click here to learn more http://www.kickstartcart.com/. I have to say, as someone who POWERFULLY communicates business messages to get results, this organization has been an invaluable networking tool.)
Action item: Make a list of organizations you can join to help grow your business. Choose one to join today!
Copyright © 2014 – Lisa Manyon. Lisa Manyon is a writer and consultant specializing in powerfully communicating business messages to get results. Manyon created a series of marketing training seminars for the Idaho Small Business Development Center and touts over 15 years of marketing, advertising, non-profit and writing experience. To learn more visit Write On ~ Creative Writing Services, LLC..
Larry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Coach. He presents networking seminars nationally and “Networking” coaching by telephone or one-on-one. His latest book is, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”
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