Tips for Effective Networking
May 6, 2013
Get More Out of Live Business Events Using these Tips for Effective Networking
Advertising is expensive. What does a small business with a great product or service do, then, when they need to get out the word about what they’re selling when they can’t afford to spend a lot on advertising? For many small businesses, the 21st century answers to this question are online social networking (social media) and traditional face-to-face networking. Both have their pitfalls, but I want to share with you some ideas about how to avoid them.
Traditional Face-to-Face networking can be time-consuming and unproductive, especially if you have to stop working, drive to wherever the networking event is happening, and then run the gauntlet of hand-shaking, introductions, and polite conversation. Getting face time with decision-makers is great, but at your most commonly attended networking functions, how often do you meet the person who gets to make the decisions that need to be made to finalize your deals? Odds are, you’re probably interacting with an intermediary or a gatekeeper of some kind.
How do you beat those odds? Try to focus your time and efforts on activities that put you in front of decision-makers. Joining your local Chamber of Commerce can often be a step in the right direction. Chambers of Commerce sometimes publish directories exclusively for Chamber members that have valuable contact information for the decision-makers behind the gatekeepers. A quick, 15-to-20 minute scheduled meeting for lunch, coffee, or end-of-day drinks with a decision-maker can be more effective and efficient than spending half an hour or more at a “networking event” doing the usual meet-and-greet.
I recently read the story of a man who worked in sales. He said he made an effort to make all of his cold calls within between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 – 6:30 p.m. (just 1 hour, total) to avoid secretaries. This tactic, the former salesman said, enabled him to book twice as many meetings as sales executives who made their calls 9:00 to 5:00. Using these kinds of strategies to work smarter, not harder are the key to successful networking.
What about social networking? For me, the phrase “temporal black hole” comes to mind when I think of Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against using social media. Your customers spend 1 out of every 6 minutes they’re online using social media. You cannot afford not to have some kind of presence in that space. Still, spending the time to create and manage social media profiles is draining on your valuable resources – especially your time. In fact, because of this, more and more businesses, even small businesses, are hiring employees just to handle their social media marketing.
Hiring a full service social media agency to handle your social media and online social networking presence might be a less expensive alternative to hiring a full-time employee. Brand management consultants and companies can also be a great solution. Such companies often offer graphic design, web design, web development, printing, and other business services in addition to social media management. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
Finally, be careful what you say when you’re networking. If you make someone a promise, and they rely on it in a way that creates a cost for them, they very likely will want to hold you to your promise! If you make an offer in writing, people will want to hold you to it. Carefully setting reasonable expectations through clear communication is important, not just because that is the quintessence of good advertising, but because doing so also protects you from claims of false advertising or disputes over so-called “verbal contracts.”
If a major company is starting a new advertising campaign, don’t you think someone, at some point, says, ‘This looks good, but take it down to legal, and have those boys make sure everything’s in order,’ or something to that effect? Sure they do, because they have lawyers to make sure they’re not promising things they can’t promise or crossing any fair business practices lines. What if you’re a small heating and air company, or a dentist office, or a real estate company, or some other small business that can’t afford an entire Legal Department? You should still consider having a business lawyer look over any marketing materials – including social media ads – you think could expose you to potential risk.
Whatever you do, remember that efficiency is no guarantee of effectiveness, and the most important question you should always be asking yourself is: “What kind of return on the investment of my time and effort – what I’m doing right this minute – can I reasonably expect?” If the answer is “Little, if anything” stop what you’re doing, immediately, and choose a more productive strategy. The second most important question is: “Is what I’m doing right now exposing me to unnecessary risk?” If the answer is, “Probably,” don’t hesitate to call someone who can help you discover a way to reduce your potential risk.
Using these tips for effective networking can help improve your effectiveness and efficiency. For more on getting the most out of live business events, see this article from the Commerce Summit Company.
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