This may come as surprising news:
A business networking event is NOT designed to bring strangers together for the purpose of referring themselves to one another.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Think about it – Why would you refer yourself to someone you barely know?
A typical networking event is designed to have people who don’t know one another meet and mingle. For a networking event to be fully productive for you, you must meet the right people for the right reasons. Meeting the right people will make a positive impact on your business and provide a high return on your networking investment.
How to Identify the Right People
Start by considering two different types of businesspeople:
1. Those who serve your preferred customer or client.
2. Those who have the potential to help you meet your business goals.
Who Also Works with Your Clients?
For this one, you might think, “Aren’t those people likely to be my competitors?”
Not necessarily. Consider that your preferred clients have many suppliers for all of their business needs, and it may be in your best interest to connect and build relationships with those other suppliers.
You can have a conversation with your customers and ask them questions like these:
“Who else solves your daily problems?”
“What companies do you call on when you need this type of product________?”
“Whom do you trust when it comes to helping you with this type of service______?”
Then when you are networking, you can focus on meeting people in those industries. If you meet a professional who services your preferred client–and you like them as a person– that is the first step in building a new relationship. When you build a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship with someone who provides services for your preferred target market, your referral potential will increase dramatically. Remember that in a true tri-win relationship (meaning win-win-win), that person’s referral potential will also increase, and the client will get the best service possible.
Who Can Help with Your Business Goals?
First of all, if you have not set business goals, stop right here–you need to make that your top priority this week!
If you do have business goals, don’t cover them up in a desk drawer or let them collect dust on your bulletin board. Make sure that you review them each month.
Now, choose one of your goals and ask yourself, “Who do I need to meet to help me accomplish this goal?” It can be tough to make it alone in today’s competitive business environment. So why try to go it alone?
Let’s say that one of your business goals this year is to write an article for a local publication. How do you network your way to achieving that goal?
First, you start regularly reading the publication. Find out who writes the articles, who writes for other papers in your area, who the editors are, etc. Then, spread the word throughout your own network because there’s a good chance it includes someone who could put you in contact with the right individual. You can let it be known that you want to meet writers, editors, and others working for local publications to help you gain insight and knowledge about how they accomplished something you aspire to do. Be sure to tell your networking partners that you are in no way intending to try to sell something to these people.
You could also look for networking events sponsored by these publications. You will probably find staff members there providing support, so your focus will be on meeting and speaking with the right people–professionals connected with the publication. Again, your intention is learning how to write an article for your local business paper.
Whatever your business goal is, if you network with the people who have the experience and connections to guide you toward your goal, you will be well on your way to accomplishing it.
One more thought: When you consider asking someone in your personal network for a favor, ask yourself whether they are simply a contact or if you have an actual established connection with them. Avoid having unrealistic expectations of your network, such as support that your contacts may feel you don’t deserve. You have to earn the loyalty and engagement of your referral sources.
Now you know that there are two objectives to help you reach your business goal:
(1) to meet the right people, and (2) to develop deep relationships with them over time.
Successful business networking really is all about meeting the right people for the right reason and building relationships with them over time.
To help you determine who you want to meet at your next networking event, make a list of the following:
– 5 professions (other than your own) that serve your preferred customer
– 2 of your current business goals
Then begin attending networking events so you can connect with other professionals who are on your list. I’d like to hear about YOUR list – what are your two business goals and which 5 professions do you want to meet?