Like most young professionals, it wasn’t many years ago that I was deciding between being a professional athlete and a professional “something” (commercial insurance agent in my case). Of course, I settled on not-pro athlete for the glamour, fame and respect provided from the insurance world. *cough*
And though millions of people will likely never tune in to watch me perform, I have learned valuable lessons about growing a business, a personal brand and means of contacting and converting clients.
I think for most people, despite what the world of social media marketing may imply, we exist, now more than ever in a world of what I like to call “hand shake business.” I believe that a handshake with a living, breathing person will open far more doors for sales and business growth than any like on Facebook (as I write an article on Linkedin).
So, how do we do it? How do you find a hand to shake, a person to meet or buy a drink for that will lead to a sale?
There are two main avenues that have worked for me in my career.
First, join associations.
These can range from Rotary (shout out to La Mesa Rotary from District 5340) to Chambers of Commerce to the professional associations that exist for the members of your target markets. If you don’t know of any association around your target market–you haven’t looked hard enough. There are associations for everything. I am an insurance agent focused on coverage for all forms of real estate investment. In San Diego County alone, there are five associations specifically for real estate investors that meet on a monthly basis and guess what… every single one offers 50% of the time to networking.
Second, experiment with networking groups.
I have had mixed results here. Most networking groups have you pay to gain access to other members with the implication that because you are in the group, you are both willing to give and receive referrals to/from other members. These groups include BNI, Provisors, LeTip, STAR…and countless more. My advice here is try a lot of them. If you are going to be doing business with these people and using the group as a medium, you will want to make sure you gel with the group as a whole and the individuals you will be working with. These range from $50/month to $200/month, so you want to make sure you can see yourself being successful before you take the plunge.
Once you have found an association and a group (or 4)–then what?
I have a personal trick that I use to merge into a new group faster.
This works especially if networking isn’t your strong suit, you’re nervous, you don’t know anyone…etc Get there early, there will likely be only a few people (the organizers), and offer to help set up. You will show everyone that you are ready to contribute, and you will make easy conversation with the few people there rather than having to jump in to a giant pool where (it feels like) everyone knows each other and you are the outsider. And…these people who you meet will not only like you and get to know you because you have come early and offered help, but later they will introduce you to a ton of other members, and on the first day you will feel like you know at least a few people well enough to be able to talk to them if you start to get overwhelmed.
Part 2: You’re in the thick of it, your doing great, meeting people, making jokes, now, how to convert? Once you have shaken a few hands, gotten a few business cards, you need to make sure you avoid falling into the “flash in the pan” category. You need to follow up. I know it sounds outrageous that I would even need to say that here, but it is so commonly and abusively ignored I will say it again in big bold letters. YOU NEED TO FOLLOW UP. If you’re talking to John the realtor, remember what he said, recognize a place where you feel like your business could be of service to helping him grow (not the other way around) and the next day, first thing, write him an email and say that…ask him to get together to determine and explain exactly how you are both interested in and willing to help his business grow–that can be with your expertise, your network, your service, or even your friendship…it really doesn’t matter. The point is: He gave you his card, it is an opportunity for you to reach out to him and explain how you believe you can add value. That little thing will open more doors and accelerate the growth of your business immensely in almost no time.
There is a lot more to the game of networking. But as a great place for anyone to start–
1. Find where your potential clients (or referral sources) have memberships and spend their time.
2. On your first day, get there early and help the people set up, it will earn you months worth of introductions from people who know everyone—the organizers.
3. When you meet people, follow up with how you can add value. And don’t BS this, don’t just say it while really trying to figure out how they can help you. Actually and sincerely determine how you can help them, then do what you say will do.
Because… and this is the big secret of networking: Any person you meet is a door to many more people and those people will already trust you, like you and want to work with you, if you added value to their colleague and helped them grow their business. A great recommendation is worth $1,000,000 if you do what you say you will do and add value to the best of your ability.
Please leave comments on what works for you when your out in the networking world.