“Networking is a process, not an event,” says John Bryan, the newly appointed Director Of Chamber Councils for the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “A process is a series of steps that are done the same way every time. When you use a process, you can measure results and make improvements to become more effective,” he says. And when you network, you reap the benefits of connecting with others in new business relationships, learning new things so you can make referrals, and tapping into the resources of literally thousands of individuals who are in the networks of the people you meet.
Bryan rallied a capacity group of 50 Knowledge Is Power participants who first toured the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and learned about opportunities to support the Jaguars and then convened for the breakfast meeting.
Bryan, the CEO of Improve! Corporate Workshops, emphasized that the networking process requires taking four steps:
3. Following-up, and
• Planning. Networking can—and should—take place anywhere you go, says Bryan—at meetings, in seminars, at luncheons, at kids’ sporting events, even online. In Jacksonville alone, you could attend hundreds of networking events each week. But to get the most “bang for your buck,” you should plan your networking events.
The first, most critical step in planning your networking is to assess your customers. Who are they? Who are their customers (who do they do business with?) And where do they congregate? Planning starts by answering six questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. “The most important of these questions is who and where. Once you figure out the who,” says Bryan, “the rest of the questions become easier.” For example, he recommended clicking into Jacksonville.com and pouring over the current and recently published business calendars. “You will find all kinds of events where your customers congregate and you can network,” he said.
• Attend. “Just do it!” People have good intentions about networking, but often they don’t show up at events, says Bryan. “Why? Because they are afraid. Fear of failure keeps them from doing what they know they should do.
A way to defeat the fear? “On the way to you next networking event,” he recommends, “think of a little failure you have had and then cheer about it—out loud! By the time you get to the event, you are going to feel great. All of these fears will be behind you.”
Then, once you arrive at the event, all you have to do is say something brilliant and avoid some pitfalls. The key to doing this? Prepare and use an effective elevator speech. (See sidebar, “How to develop a great elevator speech.”)
• Follow up. Doing follow up is easier today than it was “ages ago,” says Bryan. “Back then, to follow up you had to send a handwritten note or call on someone. Now, you can e-mail, text, or use social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn.” At the same time, however, he cautioned not to disregard the old-fashioned methods of following up. Because a handwritten note is unexpected, for example, it can make you stand out.
• Improve. A key step in the networking process is improvement. You can’t improve unless you keep track of your activities, stresses Bryan. Track where you go, how many leads you capture at each networking event, how many messages you send out to the leads, and other interactions you have with your contacts. Finally, assess if you captured any business. “This can take time,” he says, “maybe six months or more.”
Your analysis should tell you which events are the best and most productive. Focus on those that provide the best results and eliminate those that are ineffective.
John Bryan presented the networking workshop to participants in the monthly Knowledge Is Power breakfast workshops of the Jacksonville Small Business Advantage. The workshop followed a tour of the press box, locker room, and stadium of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Following up with e-mail
Following up is a critical step in the networking process, says Bryan, and one of the easiest ways to follow up is to e-mail the individuals whose business cards you collect at events. Enter the contact information into a database (either manually or scan it in, using a card scanner). Then send an e-mail.
Some rules you should keep in mind:
1. Keep the e-mail short. No one reads a long message.
2. Create an impactful subject line.
3. Use a businesslike e-mail address.
4. Call after you send the e-mail—especially if you are sending some requested information.
5. Include an opt-out clause if you put the address into a mass-mailing folder. (Abide by CAN-SPAM rules. See “E-mail marketing: Know CAN-SPAM rules.”)
How to develop a great elevator speech
An elevator speech is the key to effective networking. It is your 30-second “first impression” to new contacts. You should develop different elevator speeches for different events; the speech will vary according to the kind of individuals with whom you are networking.
A brilliant elevator speech has four elements, says Bryan, who says he borrowed the concepts from Michele and Pat McManamon of Sandler Sales Institute North Florida, and Doug Wilder of Wilder Business Success.
1. Your name and company;
2. The kind of customers you work with, and why they were feeling bad (emotion) before they met you;
3. An emotional response about why your customers love you and how your product helps them, and
4. How your new contact can get involved.
Bryan gave an example of one of his elevator speeches:
1. I am John Bryan, director of the Chamber Councils of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
2. I work with people who WERE FRUSTRATED by their business-promotion results.
3. Now they LOVE the dozens of networking and business-promotion opportunities they get every month from the Chamber Councils.
4. Do you know people who need more and better promotional opportunities? Let’s talk.
Do’s and don’ts of effective networking
To give a great 30-second elevator speech, you have to abide by a few rules:
1. Do wear a name badge and make sure you pin it on the right side of your chest.
2. Do stand in an open-group; that is, don’t stand face-to-face. Stand at an angle so others can easily get included without interrupting.
3. Do take charge and introduce people to each other.
4. Do slow down. Networking isn’t the place to talk fast.
5. Don’t “pounce and feed.” Talk with your new networking prospect a few minutes, then move on.
6. Don’t “spray and pray.” That is, don’t try to tell your new contact everything about yourself, your company, and your products or services. Listen more than you talk so you understand their needs and can discuss your product only in terms of how it fits their needs.