Networking, Finding Prospects, Creating Friends, and Building Relationships

by Miriam Bridgeman

I find myself networking or going to business events a couple of times a week.  Some professionals do it often and others not at all.  What is the right answer?  I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the task of attending.  Time has become such a commodity these days, and we never seem to have enough of it.  We are carting our kids off to sports and extra activities, working all day and keeping up with friends it’s a miracle anyone has time to check the social media sites or keep up with anything.  I’m always honored if I’m hosting an event for an organization or at home for a family function that people attend.  They could do a thousand other things and spend their time elsewhere, but they didn’t.  That is an honor.

One of the reasons I network is because I like going out to events be it daytime or evening and meet people.  You meet all sorts of people.  I’m curious about them, their story and find people to be quite interesting really.  It works as a way for me to prospect, casually meet them, determine if I’m a good fit to see if there’s a need I can fill with my services.  Of course, it works the other way too – my sisters will often ask if I know of a good HVAC person, accountant, or caterer or any service.  I like having a list of people that I have become friends with, built relationships with and whom I trust to refer to them.  Building this type of referral network can be added value to your clients and if you need services yourself.

There is a wrong way to do networking.  I’ve seen it – Hi, my name is Bob, I do this and this, here’s my card and they are off to speed date to the next person.  Never once asking me what I do, who I am or if there’s any interest in creating a relationship.  Not sure I will remember who Bob is or what he does just that he was rude in his introduction.  I believe having an interest in what people do and who they are will have a lasting impact on future connections with them.  The ability to create the “what can I do for you” attitude has been one that I’ve adapted and has worked quite well in building trust and friendship with business contacts as well as clients.  After networking, you will remember certain things about the people you have met.  You are likely to have a stack of business cards you’ve collected from the event.  A good way to continue the connection is to write an email, call or a short note to say you were happy to meet them and hope to connect with them soon.  It keeps you at the top of their mind for future referrals.

I have built a good business by networking so I will keep at it but I’ve also spent time in groups that didn’t amount to any business.  Remember your time is valuable.  It’s good to keep track of which events seem to be a good fit for your business.  You don’t want to end up wasting time at an event that has fifty other people in the room that do exactly what you do and are after the same business.  A good rule is to try an event or group a few times and see if anything comes from the relationships you’ve built.  I keep track of where my business comes from to see if my time is being spent where it should be.  If you are just starting to build your business, this is a great way to add to your book for newsletters or events.  It’s always good to ask people if they could be added to your mailing list or in the least have an ‘unsubscribe’ button.  Don’t just assume people are interested.

Years of networking has been fruitful both in finding prospects for my services and creating longtime friendships.  If you’re thinking of jumping in, don’t think, just start.  Attend a Chamber event or connect with a colleague to tag along and just do it.  Take a shot,  meet people, be interested in who they are, how they got where they are, learn what their story is and then find out what you can do for them.

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