Late last year during the Christmas holiday break, while I was lazing away days in front of bowl games eating popcorn with my son, playing video games and getting in a day or two of steep incline slope meditation (that’s skiing to you), I made a decision to become a proactive networker in 2010. As in – let’s be a conscious networker every day and see what happens.
I didn’t want to set expectations for the networking, such as how much business I could create out of the networking (which meant I would be pushing people to buy something). I wanted to set some measurement points for things I can do and control. I can set a goal of reaching out to one new person a day, every business day (and even on weekends if I felt like it), by talking to or reaching out via e-mail to someone with a specific reason (not sales).
So I am going into 2010 with this approach: reach out consistently and frequently and see what happens.
Early in the year it’s interesting to see what’s happened already. One thing I’m promoting locally is the Salem Business Network, a local online business-networking and referral site that I run. My plan is to talk to a few hundred people about it this year and get them signed up for a free listing which will likely get them listed on the front page of major search engines. Again, I just want to see where all that networking and relationship-building leads.
If the networking is only online, I look for opportunities to take it offline. If they’re local, that means an invitation to coffee and conversation. If they’re not local, it’s an invitation to a phone conversation.
For the first week of the year I talked to about a half-dozen folks that were somewhat lukewarm to the idea of joining another networking group (perhaps I wasn’t explaining the benefit clearly enough for them to understand), but did sign up a handful. Then yesterday I connected with a web designer here locally that was absolutely intrigued by the site because he could see the underlying architecture and said “Wow, this is impressive! Even to me!” Funny how you get re-inspired when you run across someone who ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do.
I’ve also reached out to a couple of ‘friends of friends’ on Facebook that intrigued me enough with comments and e-mails so I felt it was the right thing to do to find a phone number and make the call. It’s led to a handful of great conversations.
So what takes place in the conversation? I have two or three questions I ask:
First, if they’re in business – which almost all are – I want to know who is their ideal client? I ask them to describe that person or company. If I know anyone that fits that description I’ll make an introduction.
Second, I ask if they mind if I add them to my newsletter list as a way of keeping in touch. I also get complete contact information, such as Twitter and Facebook, and ask if they’re on LinkedIn. Hey, if you’re going to networking, you had better take it online if it’s not already there.
Third, I offer to help them with anything in the tradeshow arena. Not a heavy-handed sell – just an invitation to call me if a situation comes up where they or their clients need semething to do with tradeshow marketing. I find that a ‘light touch’ for the sales end of what I do works: it’s inviting while not being pushy. Plus, it’s congruent with the purpose of my call: to network – not to sell.
The things I am getting out of ProActive Networking so far: turning those tweets and avatar photos into real human beings; and fostering more connections between all the people I know.
Chances are I’ll follow up these conversations with a quick card from my SendOutCards account to solidify the connection and maybe impress them, too.
But what do I really get out of it? I get to know more people and I have found over the last seven years of being in exhibit sales I love getting to know people and to help them get what they want. If I can do that effectively, then I can get what I want.
QUESTIONS for you: What are you doing to network this year? Are you trying new things, new ways to reach people? Are you consciously and consistently looking to find new people? I’d love to see your comments!
Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of SendOutCards, the coolest ever online card-sending service. Try it out here. I also work with SmartGuy.com to assist people to start their own online city-based business networks that looks just like Salem Business Network. If you want to find out how to start your own local online networking site, contact me.