Categorized | Word On the Street

On The Street: How do you get the most out of networking?

Networking is a key method to build a small business. ADVANTAGE: THE RESOURCE FOR SMALL BUSINESS asked readers about their experiences (and tips) in networking. Here is what they told us.

 Be interested in people! You have to take a sincere, active interest in people to generate conversation and friendship. People like doing business with people they like. Ask questions and take an active interest by listening.

— Steve Valdes, ThermaServe Mechanical Systems Services

To get the most out of networking, think of it as any other type of marketing activity, and before you start, develop a strategy. Be deliberate in selecting a networking group for its opportunities. Ask an existing client to invite you to a group and introduce you around. That way, you avoid not knowing anyone in the room, and you are being introduced by a client, which serves as an endorsement of your capabilities. Networking is work. Work smarter, not harder.

—Sandra Brooks, president at Brookslacayo,

The goal of the people who attend networking meetings is to grow their businesses. These men and women know that what they have can make a difference in someone else’s life. The really good networkers will take a newbie under their wing and teach them how to break down barriers and use the 15-, 30-, and 60-second commercials/elevator speeches.

Networking is work. It is not just a social event. Networkers meet to grow by giving and getting referrals, giving information, working toward a goal that he/she has set for the week. Not one person in a networking group may ever buy a single thing from you. But from this group you may get one or more referrals that will lead you to more people and more opportunities.

—Lucille Ferry, CEO, The Foxglove Foundation, Inc.,

Networking was not natural for me, yet I knew networking was the only way I could build business contacts to get referrals. So, I started networking with organizations that have a similar client base as ours. Before starting to network, I read a book entitled, Endless Referrals by Bob Burg. I learned that networking it is not about me. It is about how I can add value to the person I am meeting or to their clients. If there is a good match, the probability of a getting a referral increases dramatically. Once you get the referral, you have instant credibility.

—Bob McKenzie, McKenzie HR,

I did the shotgun approach with networking for many years, and it worked to some extent. However, as my business started growing, I found I had to take a rifle approach by focusing my time on areas that could be most productive. At this stage in my career, that means focusing more on professional networking (with other CPAs) rather than networking in business groups. That’s what you need to watch for in networking.

—Keith Johnson, principal, Keith E. Johnson CPA, PA,

Networking is an invaluable tool for anybody but it can also be a huge time waster if you don’t do it right. Good networkers are able to introduce themselves with a clear audio logo so that after saying, “I’m a [CPA, lawyer, computer consultant]” dead silence does not follow.

My best advice to newbie networkers: Create a problem-oriented audio logo that includes a solutions statement about the benefits you provide. Prepare stories to explain the “How do you do that?” question that will follow. Formulate a unique competitive advantage that allows you to stand apart from others.

—Graeme Nichol, Arcturus Advisors,

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