One of the best sites I can think of for small businesses is www.entrepreneur.com. It contains a wealth of articles on how to grow and develop your business and if you haven't yet read the variety of informative articles, you should do this right away. It's truly an invaluable resource. One columnist in particular caught my attention when I was doing some research on business networking. His name is Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder and chairman of BNI, the world's largest networking organization. Even more impressive is the notion that he is the world's leading expert on business networking. Furthermore, he has published a couple of books that certainly are useful for polishing up on one's skills.
So here I give you a summary of the articles I read by him. If you're interested in reading these in detail, visit the networking articles archive on the website.
Most people in the business world realize how important networking is when it comes to getting referrals and growing their business. Yet, there is a lot more to networking than simply showing up to events and passing out your card. Networking, in its entirety, is about building relationships of trust and credibility. If you just focus on getting referrals, you will miss out on the big picture: keeping your business growing and profitable in the long-term.
Before you even get to the event though, you need to do your homework. Target events where there will be a variety of people who aren't like you, as this develops a wide range of prospects. Set a goal of what you want to achieve at the event and how many people you want to talk to. Make sure you know what you're going to say ahead of time about your business. Try to be as specific as possible about what your business does, and talk about one product or service as to not overwhelm or bore people. Develop well thought out presentations that will help keep you and your company memorable. Lastly, have your "tools" with you. These are things like an informative name badge, business cards, and brochures.
When you go to networking events, you need to let the best of your personality shine through. It doesn't matter if you are outgoing or shy, it just means keeping a positive attitude, showing enthusiasm, staying motivated, having good listening skills, showing gratitude, and being sincere when handling business relations. To maximize your time, act like a host instead of a guest. Introduce yourself to people and then introduce him or her to someone else. Spend ten minutes or less with each person, and write notes on the back of their business card to help remember them. Ask genuine questions like "What business are you in?" and "How did you get into your business?" Most importantly, don't try to sell your service or product. Remember, networking is about building relationships, and the selling will come later.
After each event, organize and file away the business cards you received. You want to prioritize, organize, and do follow-up. Separate your cards into the people you definitely want to contact, the people you might contact, and the people you don't want to contact. Write out a schedule and set goals of how you are going to follow-up with the people you want to contact. Set aside daily some time to contact one person and follow-up with them at least three weeks after.
Remember to always treat prospects as your best client. Be genuine and truthful about what you can offer them and really take the time to see if they would be a right fit for you, and if your company is a right fit for them.
However hectic our work and social lives may be, we need to remember that old school techniques like promoting your business through word of mouth are certainly a fundamental part of growing a business. People buy from YOU and without first establishing a relationship with them, you become quite simply, another faceless name in the competitive game of business.