How To Make Networking Work For Your Small Business
From Travis’ Point Of View
I have a question for you. Do you ever attend networking events? You know, like the chamber of commerce, leads groups, or any of the other hundreds of opportunities to stand around with other business people and pretend like you’re getting something done?
What’s always amazed me is the sheer lack of effective execution I witness at networking events. I mean, most people are literally just wasting their time…accomplishing nothing.
Believe it or not, we used to do a lot of networking. When we first started our business we opened the doors with (literally) a $200 investment. $100 from each of us. They must have laughed at us down at the bank…
But that’s not all that uncommon with small (micro, really) businesses.
Networking can be effective, without a lot of work (or money). So let me give you my opinion about how it should be done. I’ll begin with “When/why to network” then finish up with “How to network.”
When/Why Should YOU Network?
Simple answer here. When you have more time than money. If the idea of spending even a couple hundred dollars on an ad or some direct mail frightens you or seems impossible, networking may be your best option.
Mark this down: you only have 2 options. Networking or marketing.
You either need to leverage your time or your money into new business. If you plant Tibetan prayer seeds or focus on organizing your office every day of the week, you will quickly find yourself….WITH NO BUSINESS!
Cracks me up (actually makes me sad). Because we’ve seen many entrepreneurs refuse to spend any money on their small business marketing while at the same time insist that they can’t break away from their family in the evenings to network. Hence, zero business. If you can’t do one, you must do the other—unless you’re independently wealthy.
Now, if you’ve gotten to the point where you are running out of time…networking may be a baaaaad idea. The big limitation of networking is that unless you’re speaking to the group, you can really only influence one person at a time. And that can be a very long road. Nevertheless, there is a way to make your time effective.
How To Network
You shouldn’t be surprised that it’s not all that different from How To Market. You gotta say something worth paying attention to. You gotta say/be different somehow.
You must give people a reason why they should pay any attention to you at all.
Joel Bauer would say attract, convey, capture, convert (or something like that). And that’s exactly it.
Here’s how we used to do it…
We went out and bought embroidered orange visors. One said “defy” and the other said “gravity.” Yeah…we looked like dorks.
But guess what? Everyone asked, “What’s with the hats?” One time we got thrown out of a networking event at a restaurant because of the hats. And that caused the hats to become minor local celebrities (not us, just the dorky hats).
The hats became expected attractions at these events and they offered a little fun reprieve from the boring, stuffy nature of most of the networking events.
That was the “attract” part.
Now you may say, “I’m not doing anything like this…I’m not dressing up or playing any games.” Fine. Whatever. But I say this—if your business is important to you and your family, shouldn’t you do whatever it takes? Perhaps for you it’s dressing impeccably and always wearing a certain color of tie, or for another maybe it’s bringing bags of candy to every event and passing it out to make friends.
The idea is to do something that makes people come to you—not the other way around.
Now onward...to convey.
When someone would ask about the hats, we would focus on delivering benefits to them. Get on their frequency—WII-FM (What’s In It For Me). We wouldn’t talk about US we would talk about THEM. Ask lots and lots of questions. We’d CONVEY to them that their life could be better by getting a little bit of what we had. We would think of ways to help them on the spot.
It’s basic salesmanship really. And if you can’t do it, go out and buy Gitomer’s book “The Little Red Book of Selling”—NOW!
Something to keep in mind. The ONLY reason to be at these events to cause events to occur which result in you selling something. If you’re interested in goofing around and making friends for posterity, this is the wrong newsletter for you.
Here’s where the real magic happened. Once we had attracted people toward us and communicated a compelling message to them, we asked them a very important (critical) question:
“Would you like to get a copy of a new ebook we wrote? It’s called the 10 Tall Tales of Traditional Marketing and it shows you how to avoid costly mistake in your advertising.”
99% of the time the answer was (shocking): YES!
Into the database they would go. And we would send them that ebook. We broke it up into 10 chapters and sent one per day for 10 days. Then we backed off a bit and sent an email every 10 days until forever.
This is what NOBODY does. That method of “collecting:” their name, email address and permission to send them something was a gold mine for us.
From Jimmy’s Point Of View
Many people use networking as a marketing tool for their business, but very rarely do I see it done effectively. Effective networking is also a big topic of discussion in many town chambers, networking groups and business associations, the problem is I’ve never heard anyone give a “smart marketing” approach to networking. So that’s what I’m going to do here and now.
Networking done right can be effective. I wouldn’t say it’s going to make you rich… You just can’t possibly reach enough people because of the manual labor required to do the networking. But it’s a great additional strategy or a starter strategy for someone that has more time than money (if you have more money than time – advertise instead).
I have decided to discuss this in Gravitational Marketing terms to make it a little more entertaining and give you an analogy to follow at the same time. So are you ready to Blast-Off?? Let’s begin.
Know Your Mission Plan:
Here’s the first step to effective networking and the one most people never get past. For every type of marketing or advertising you do, you must have a plan – a reason for doing that marketing (it’s to get more business and make relationships ain’t it?).
I would say for most general businesses your goal at a networking function should be to separate the interested/potential prospects from the non-interested/non-potential ones. So in essence your mission is to generate qualified leads for your business.
By the way, in a medium to large networking event you have to really hustle to get this done. You can’t be lollygagging around and unfocused. It’s called networking for a reason. You have to do work and it isn’t a walk in the park. It takes a lot of go-go-go to be really good at networking.
So getting back to the lead generating… Here’s why most people can’t do this effectively… They don’t have a funnel set up in their business. You need a concrete marketing/sales funnel for your business. Every new lead goes in at the top and comes out somewhere along the way – either as a customer or a follow-up-with-later. Each of which should then be put into another funnel which tries to bounce them to the next step in the process.
If you sell different products that are unrelated or have multiple businesses you must only concentrate on one per networking event – whichever one is more targeted to the group you are attending (targeting in networking is a smart idea as it is in any marketing effort – your response will be significantly higher and it could be the difference between success and failure).
Bottom line: You need to know what the next step is and you need a power hook and headline (a Gravitational Positioning Statement built into a :30 elevator pitch (see www.scend.net/guide for more info on how to create that) that draws them in and gets them to take that next step. Your pitch must qualify or disqualify them from the next step and if they qualify entice them to want to go on. The next step should be free and non-threatening.
You are moving from stranger to friend here. Not stranger to customer. That’s what most people try to do in networking and in their marketing. The next step shouldn’t be let’s meet. That’s transparent. If a meeting is the next step you better make it look like a juicy steak and dress it up in its Sunday best.
Believe it or not, just like with marketing you can have people coming up to you in a networking situation. Yes, people will actually gravitate toward you at networking functions if you do it properly. How? Make a scene, be a spectacle. Make an event out of yourself being there.
Warning: This takes balls. It’s called pattern interrupt in the sales business. There are several ways you can play it. This is your opportunity to be creative and let your personality shine. Here are some of the ideas we or our clients have tried.
Wearing orange visors – One says Defy the other Gravity.
Handing out oranges
Wearing a dress shirt and tie with custom overalls and a pitch fork
Wearing orange flight suits
Wearing a bee keepers suit
Bringing a label maker and plastic name tags and making everyone in the room a name tag
Pining money all over your suit jacket
Dress better than anyone else in the room (like you were a celebrity going to the academy awards)
Wearing a gun belt and revolvers
Creating a crowd and doing mind reading effects and audience participation stunts
Now let me give you the big caveat. You can’t just go into a room like this and stand there and not try to get attention. You must be all in or in character. You are a character at this point.
Your attention getter has to tie in exactly perfect with your GPS/:30 pitch and your next step. People will come up to you and ask, “What’s ________ all about.” Right there you need to be ready. What you say next is everything. It better make sense and it better draw them into a qualifying line of questions and the next step. If not… you’re just a goof.
After The Mission: After the mission you’re going to have a whole bunch of cards and names and contacts (at least I hope so). 99% of anyone who got this far will fail at this next step.
You need to have a follow system in place and be ready to rock-n-roll when you’re done networking. It also better be easy to implement (or you have someone else that implements) otherwise it won’t get done – believe me!
You must have a systematic method to take the people who qualify and took the next step to make sure it happens and the people who were qualified but didn’t take the next step to get them to take it.
The disqualified people you can discard or pass along to someone you know who might be able to work with them.
That’s it! The key is pre-planning and pre-work. The systems have to be set up BEFORE you ever decide to network. The problem is most people take networking lightly. Like you just go and have fun, eat and drink and you get business. If it only were that simple.
Look nothing is that simple… Business takes work and so does networking and it all works better if you have a strategic plan in place.