Make connections through networking

Well fall is definitely here. Kids are back in school and families are returning to a more structured routine.

Well fall is definitely here. Kids are back in school and families are returning to a more structured routine.

And, our attention to business becomes more focused. There are many opportunities to get out and re-acquaint yourself and your company in the business community.

Networking is connecting. Networking can be thought of in more technical terms, linking several components like your computer network or entertainment system. Business networking should operate the same way, linking or connecting you to business opportunities.

Network groups are formed for a variety of reasons. New products are introduced, business leads are shared and community projects are planned and completed. They can be on a large scale, like trade shows and conferences, or on a smaller scale, like industry-focused groups or associations.

Some of the best venues are the local Chamber of Commerce or Executive Leads Association. Both exist in Red Deer and are very active. I am a member of each of these organizations and they have become the foundation of my networking strategy.

The Chamber is having a “Business After Hours” this evening at the new ATB North Gaetz Crossing — 6794 50th Ave., co-hosted by Restaurant 27, the food sponsor. This is open to all and does not require a Chamber membership. For more information on the Executive Leads Association, please refer to their website at http://www.reddeerleads.com.

There are numerous networking opportunities, so it is important to choose the right option for you. Of course, there are obvious benefits to associating with your trade or industry sector — common information, issues and solutions are accessible to the membership.

Attend as a guest to determine if the group is a good fit. Ideally, you are looking to establish mutually beneficial relationships, so identify and target your market definition before you join.

Be sure to adhere to the attendance requirements. Be an active participant and take your turn to contribute to the association in an executive, committee or volunteer role.

As an owner, you are your business. Your integrity and credibility creates your reputation — your brand.

You become a walking advertisement. Always dress and present yourself professionally. Be friendly, open, smile and maintain eye contact.

Networking events are designed to meet people, to make good business contacts and to build quality relationships.

Always set a goal to meet one or two new people at each event. Taking the time to really get to know someone new, and to let them get to know you, is much more useful than collecting every business card in the room.

Stop and take note of the activity when you enter the room. Notice individuals standing by themselves and groups of people that have gathered together. Body language speaks volumes.

If a group is “closed” — facing and speaking with each other — your approach may seem intrusive. Look for “open” groups, opportunities to approach and be included in the conversation.

Introduce yourself briefly first, giving your particulars: name, business, location and a very quick description. Then take the time to build a rapport.

The recipient will enjoy the opportunity to answer your questions. Once you’re asked, be ready with a genuine, but short, description of your products and services. You’ll make a bigger and better impression when you take the time to learn about them first.

Communication is an art form. Talk less, listen more — don’t “hijack” the conversation. Learn how to ask open-ended questions, questions that prompt the other person to talk about themselves and their business.

Then listen, learn and remember! Take a moment to write a few notes on the back of their business card, including what you said you would do. A tip — take more business cards than you hand out; be selective.

If you can, establish yourself as a resource. You may not find a potential lead at every event, but you may have a referral for some else’s business. Don’t hesitate to send business their way.

Be sure to follow through when you’re given referrals. Chances are the person that gave you the tip will ask whether or not you made contact. Even if the referral turns out to not be a viable lead, you’ll have initiated a new relationship.

And always express your thanks. E-mails or phone calls are appropriate, but a sincere, hand-written note is better.

Networking can be — and should be — an enjoyable experience. It can also be one of the most profitable marketing strategies you can use to keep your contact pipeline flowing.

ActionCoach is written by John MacKenzie of ActionCoach, which helps small- to medium-sized businesses and other organizations. He can be contacted at johnmackenzie@actioncoach.com or by phone at 403-340-0880.