Make the Connection

One of my employees told me this week that she passed some advice from one of my books on to her cousin; it was about making connections at networking functions.  She told me that her cousin, Greg, recently joined a chamber of commerce to promote the new business he started after being laid off from the company he had worked in for a number of years and he felt clueless as to how to form connections with the strangers he came in contact with at mixers.

My employee remembered reading an article by Alice Ostrower in my book Masters of Networking about making connections so she passed it on to Greg. Reportedly he feels much more comfortable at mixers and has been having a lot more success in networking his business because he now has a strategy for making connections and he feels he knows his purpose when he arrives at a networking event.

Here are the four standard techniques that have been working for Greg and I guarantee they will help you get your networking message across effectively and encourage a positive response (Thanks, Alice! :)):

1.  Get the person’s attention.  Show interest by asking questions: “How are you?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Have you heard about? . . .” “Did you know? . . .”

2.  Add interest.  Respond to the answer but don’t move the conversation to you; elicit more information from the other person.

3.  Involve.  Use the “feel, felt, found” formula (“I know how you feel, I felt the same way, and this is what I found”) to involve yourself in the other person’s message before you deliver your own.

4.  Network.  Tie it all together by connecting one person’s needs or goals with the resources, needs, or goals of another person.  For example: “I felt the same way until I met John Jones.  He really helped me accomplish my goals.  Why don’t I have him give you a call?  Is tomorrow evening convenient?”

This is networking at its best.  Your new acquaintance finds a solution to a problem, your referral gets new business, and you gain a reputation as a friendly, reliable, knowledgeable person who seems to know everybody.  Your name and reputation will become familiar to more and more people, and your business will automatically benefit in the long run.

Three Essential Questions

How can a time-strapped businessperson figure out which networking events she should attend and which she should let go by the wayside? 

The answer: Develop a networking strategy.

Here are three easy–but definitely essential–questions you need to answer in order to create a plan that will work for you. 

Who Are My Best Prospects? 
It’s important to know that each target market will have a strategy that requires you to network in different places. If you’re not sure who your target market is, look at your list of past clients. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with, or have you worked mostly with consumers?

Once you’ve put together a profile of your past clients, ask people close to you for patterns you may have overlooked and get their input on who might be a good fit for your business.

Where Can I Meet My Best Prospects?
As you begin targeting specific niche markets, there are other venues and opportunities that fall outside the typical networking event.  Here are some examples of specific target markets and where you should network to find people in these markets:

Small-business owners–chamber of commerce, local business association, referral groups

Representatives from big corporations in your area–service clubs, nonprofit groups, volunteer work, homeowners associations

Consumers–your kids’ events: Little League, Boy Scouts and so forth

Whom, Exactly, Do I Want To Meet?
Even if you can’t name the people you want to meet, the better you can descibe them, the greater the chance you’ll get to meet your ideal contact.

Be as specific as possible when asking for a contact because it focuses the other person’s attention on details that are more likely to remind him of a specific person rather than if you asked, “Do you know anyone who needs my services?”

Networking works.  It’s just a matter of developing a strategy that puts you in contact with the right people. That’s exactly what the three questions above will help you do.

The No. 1 Question to Ask as a Networker–‘How Can I Help?’

No matter who you are or what part of the world you live in, Givers Gain is the No. 1 rule to remember when networking. You should always be thinking, “How can I help this person?” After all, networking is about building relationships; and helping others is the absolute best way to begin the relationship-building process. Put simply, helping equals opportunity.

At a social event, you usually ask somebody, “How’s it going?”  What’s the typical reply?  Probably something like, “Great; things couldn’t be better.”  That’s a canned response that people give because they want to be polite and because they know nobody really wants to hear their troubles. But it’s not usually the whole truth.

Things can always be better–that is, there are surely ways you can help–but most people aren’t inclined to go into detail or let others know what’s going on, especially at social events. The best way to find out is to avoid generalities like, “How are things?”  Ask more specific questions.

For example, if somebody tells you that things are going great, their company is expanding, and business is better than they expected, ask a specific question like, “Are you hitting all of your goals?”  Even if they say yes, this is still a big opportunity to help. Think about it: A company that is expanding faster than the owner had projected. What kind of help might it need? You may be able to make some introductions that this individual would be very grateful for, but you can only figure out what introductions to make after getting past the generalities and finding out a person’s specific needs.

Many consider networking just another way to get clients, but when you think in terms of building relationships, a chance to help is a big opportunity. That help can be provided in many forms, each as valuable as the next.

Ask Me A Question . . . C’mon, Any Question!

OK, wait, let me rephrase that . . . ask me any business networking question–not just any question. If you’re thinking along the lines of embarrassing moments and possible blackmail material, then you’re out of luck on this one ( Sorry, I’ve still got disclaimers on the brain after my blog about the legal system! :))

Anyway, I’m happy to announce that AskIvanMisner.com is now live, and this is your chance to ask me any question you have about how to build your personal and professional network.

On the third Tuesday of each month, beginning on Nov. 17 (10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern), I’ll be conducting a FREE, live teleseminar, co-hosted by my friend Alex Mandossian, where I’ll answer a handful of questions selected from those submitted on AskIvanMisner.com.

I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to log on and submit a question for me. You’ll be given the call-in number once you’ve submitted your question, and it’s perfectly fine with me if you invite any of your friends and/or business colleagues to join the FREE calls as well.

I’m looking forward to reading your questions, so log onto AskIvanMisner.com now and ask away!

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