Face-to-Face Networking Still Works

34th Bangalore Wikimeetup, 12 June 2011 images...

I’ve said it many times. Networking is not my favorite thing to do as a small business owner. However, it is necessary to doing business of any kind. Last year I wrote an article on face-to-face networking for Fall 2012 issue of  Annals of Psychotherapy and Integrative Health. While social networking through electronic means such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are still very popular, according to my research, nothing beats a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting.

I wasn’t surprised by this. Practically all of the freelance jobs I’ve contracted in the last seven years have been through old-fashioned networking and word of mouth referrals in my community. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that makes the difference” holds true even in the digital age. Face-to-face networking can happen at any time. Yes, it happens at social gatherings and business conferences, but it can also happen unexpectedly at the dentist’s office or grocery store. That means we must be ready for those opportunities when they arrive.

Since you probably can’t go out and buy a copy of Annals of Psychotherapy and Integrative Health on your local newsstand (it’s a bit of a niche publication), I’ve summarized the main points of my article below.

Create a networking plan and commit to it. This means deciding what you hope to accomplish with your networking and the types of connections you hope to make. You can check out what Entrepreneur.com has to say about networking for more tips.

Assemble a networking “kit” you can take with you. For everyday use, the kit could include a stack of business cards and a package of mints. For conferences it might include a schedule of events, paper, pen, and something to hold the business cards of other people.

Concentrate on making a good first impression. You can win or lose business within the first few seconds of meeting someone. Appearance, attitude, body language, and confidence level play a large part in making a good impression.

Be able to communicate who you are and what you do clearly and concisely. You should prepare a short introduction ahead of time that includes what you do, the benefits of your services, and an example of something you’ve done in the past. Keep this short and to the point. Rehearse it often so it flows smoothly.

Follow up with contacts. Email, call, or send a message through Facebook or LinkedIn within a week of making contact. Ask the person how they prefer to be contacted. When following up, make sure you have a reason to do so. According to the book The Networking Survival Guide: Practical Advice to Help You Gain Confidence, Approach People, and Get the Success You Want, you should ave something of value to offer the other person, don’t simply approach this as a sales call.

Build lasting relationships. Don’t just make contact with people who can help you. See what you can do for them. The best contacts are those that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. These are the people who will  be referring people to you for years. They will become some of your most valued allies. The time spent forging these relationship is well worth it.
There’s so much more to be said about networking, but it basically boils down to common sense. Be prepared and take advantage of opportunities to share what you do. Oh, and don’t be schmuck about it. You’ll build a network of contacts that will help you grow your business and establish your reputation.

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