Choosing the Right Events for Networking
Networking events are a great way to promote your business. Successful entrepreneurs know that choosing the right events can improve your chances of locating good prospects (that ultimately lead to sales). Events are considerably more cost effective than traditional advertising and have the added bonus of being a lot more fun.
Understanding what constitutes “the right events,” however, can be tricky, especially for a small business who needs to maximize its marketing efforts & time. There are so many events to choose from these days. And just because someone else gets lots of business from an event, it doesn’t guarantee you will. But there are some things you can do, once you’re there, to improve your chances of turning a ho-hum event into a truly productive experience.
Here are my top ten tips for ensuring you choose the right events for YOUR business:
Know Your Clients! If you know exactly what your perfect client looks like, you should be able to describe them in detail and predict the types of events they would attend. My target audience is a woman who owns her own small business, therefore I make sure I attend events created by and for women business owners. Identify your perfect client’s industry and then look for meetings that will attract that target audience. Association meetings, training seminars, workshops, fundraisers, and tradeshows are good examples.
Find New Events. If you search the internet, you can find dozens of events in your area. Business Networking International (BNI), the local Chamber of Commerce, Toast Masters International, sorority, fraternity and alumni groups, associations & trade groups, local government sponsored events, event halls and community centers are just a small fraction of the venues and organizations that host regular meetings. Look on their calendars for times and locations that suit your needs AND are likely to attract your target audience.
Ask Your Clients. My favorite way to find good events is to ask my clients where they network. And when I find a new group or event I think they would enjoy, I invite them to attend as my guest. I introduce them around and help them get connected. This serves to strengthen our relationship and makes it more likely they’ll send referrals more often.
Identify Strategic Referral Partners. Every business has a client base shared by other businesses. For instance, florists share a client base with event planners, caterers, photographers and limo companies. When picking events, look for those your potential SRP will also be attending. Seek out those SRPs when you’re at the event. I keep a list of specific industries that fall into my SRP categories and regularly review it to see if I need to replace anyone.
Have an Agenda. Smart networkers plan ahead so they know what they want to achieve at an event. It’s not just about finding good prospects. Make a list of how many SRPs you still need to meet and plan to have lunch with at least one new candidate every week. What business issues do you have? Is your laptop acting up? Need advice on a new technology? Look for people who can help you — set up a time to talk. Look for one person you connected with before and plan a follow up coffee or phone chat to strategize how you can help each other. Every connection you strengthen gets you closer to a sale. Make an agenda, with specific goals, and don’t leave the event until you’ve checked off all that you can.
Facebook & LinkedIn. These two social media sites are a goldmine when it comes to finding Groups and new events. Join Groups on both and receive a constant list of new event opportunities. For a really comprehensive how-to book on using social media to build your business, pick up a copy of Jennifer Abernethy’s [http://www.thesaleslounge.com/] “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing”….you’ll be glad you did!
Business Journals. Local business journals (or simply the business section of your local paper) will list upcoming events. Scan the papers regularly to find events that attract your target audience. Be sure to read up on the latest news that affects your clientele so you’ll have tid bits and useful news to share while networking. The more interesting your conversation, the more likely people will open up to you and want to continue the conversation after the event.
More About Chambers. Your Chamber of Commerce usually offers several different types of meetings. Some are targeted at particular industries, others target specific interests (education, local politics, demographics, marketing, education, etc), look for those that may attract your perfect clients or Strategic Referral Partners. If you live in an area serviced by several chambers, try them all out before joining any of them. Same advice applies to BNI groups…don’t join the first one that asks you. Hold out until you are convinced the fit is right and connections flow easily.
Dumping an Event. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I never get any business from that event!” But they feel compelled to attend it because their friends go or they are a member of that organization or it’s really close to the office. If an event is not producing – for whatever reason – replace it with another event. Try out several until you find the ones that work for you.
Start Your Own! Yes, it’s a scary thought but imagine the possibilities. A colleague and I started a women-only networking event because we wanted something local and easy to attend. Eight years later it’s still providing 50-60 women with a fun, effective networking opportunity every month. The relationships that have been formed (and the business shared) have positively impacted hundreds of businesses over the years. It also served as a constant reminder to me that helping others achieve what they need is truly what I want to do with my business.
It’s key to remember events consistently provide access to an unending source of new business. Choose events that will place you where you’ll have an increased chance of meeting your perfect clients. Consider the event successful only when you’ve succeeded in checking off the items on your agenda.
Don’t look at networking as something “extra” on your calendar. Make networking a base staple in your marketing effort and the only other advertising you’ll have to do is assure your web site is ready to handle the traffic that’s coming! Keep networking until you have more business than you can handle….then hire a sales person and expand!
Here’s to YOUR success!
© Ellen Kaminsky
Ellen Kaminsky is The Elevator Speech Therapist™.
And if you liked these tips then you will want the Get a Plan! Guide® to Networking. Networking is a far more important skill and practice than any of us can really comprehend. Years ago, it wasn’t necessary to know how to network because you knew who you knew – and that was all you needed to know. Today… that is far from true. Learn 19 Networking Need-to-Knows in this practical and specific guide which is part of the Get a Plan! Guides® series.