Networking - strike whilst the iron's hot
I met up with a friend recently who was telling me about his business plans for 2009 - to grow his business from a client base of 60 to 120 - so in effect, doubling it. Refreshing that in these ‘doom and gloom days' he wasn't just ‘playing it safe' but planned to get out there and grow his business.
We'd met because he wanted to get my views on how he was going about doing just that - and whether I could offer any advice.
The nature of his business is largely ‘high involvement advisory' and so he was already aware that real leverage from marketing this type of service comes from ‘relationship marketing' and ‘influencer referral/recommendation'. He had already got a targeted list of key influencers he wanted to ‘court' - and had enrolled in a range of networking activities where he could start to ‘network' with relevant influencers.
All seemed very well thought out - and then we got round to talking about ‘implementation' - and how he was going about things.
Here were some key findings:
I asked him what his ‘pitch' was when attending the networking groups. He looked at me aghast. I queried further, you know, what's your pitch? What are you saying about yourself in your ‘allocated slot' to explain very succinctly what it is you do, what you are looking to achieve, and how people can help you.
Effectively, this wasn't happening. At the networking meetings he hadn't prepared a ‘pitch' and so didn't feel comfortable standing up and doing his ‘1 minute slot' or presentation. And so whilst he was attending the meetings - he wasn't really leveraging the opportunity.
I asked him to think about those people that were standing up and getting their message across - did he remember them, did he know what they did, what they were looking to achieve, how he could help them.... Of course - he did!
If you are going to join a networking group, then make sure you get the most out of it that you can. You have to give up your time to be there - so make it worthwhile - and when you are given an opportunity to ‘market' who you are and what you do - grab it by both hands and make it a memorable and impressive pitch. We've all heard of the ‘elevator pitch' - you're in a lift with someone and you're heading up 20 floors - which takes approx 1 minute - at the ground floor they ask you ‘what you do' - and by the time you get to the top - they've got a totally clear understanding. That's how your pitch at a ‘networking group' should be.
The Follow Up:
Moving on, we discussed, the types of people at the networking groups. He'd done his work pretty well and was in the right groups, talking to the right type of people. He came away with business cards and contacts that were relevant and really useful to his main objective.
Great I said, so how are you following them up? Again, I was hit with a bit of a ‘blank gaze'...
The crux of the matter - he wasn't actually ‘formally' following them up at all.
If you are going to go to the effort of networking and meeting relevant and useful people, then it's fundamental that you follow them up in some way.
In my view - the best approach is always to ‘strike whilst the iron's hot'. Make contact as soon as you possibly can. Even if the message is just to say something like;
"Hey it was great to meet you at the xyz meeting today - I really enjoyed finding out more about your business. I think there's definitely something we could be working on in the future together... Look forward to exploring this further. Will give you a call next week to see when you are free and we can get something in the diary."
If you follow up on a conversation some 2 or 3 or 4 weeks later, how does that look? "Oh I've been too busy - and you're just not that important to me!" I suppose you could argue that following up too soon looks too desperate - but in my view, I prefer to hear from people whilst I can still remember who they are - and the conversation we had is still fresh-ish in my mind.
Keeping a track of your clients and contacts:
The other quite illuminating part of our conversation was finding out that he didn't actually ‘record' any of these ‘key influencers' details in any type of database.
I suppose this is all part of ‘effective follow up' and effort management. Ensuring that all contacts are inserted into a database (even if it's a simple excel spreadsheet titled ‘new contacts' - which logs: name, email address, url, contact numbers and where you met them) it's essential for effective ongoing management and leverage of these contacts - that details are recorded. It's fine to manage a few contacts by holding onto business cards whilst you have a couple of handfuls but what happens when you are into the hundreds?
If you want to stay in touch and keep your toe in the water - you could send them an email periodically. You may be holding a seminar and want to invite all your contacts along? A much simpler task if they are all in one place. You may want to be targeted and only send to those people you met at the A Club - and so you can just select those that you've tagged as meeting at the A Club.
So to summarise - if you are going to ‘networking groups' be sure that you leverage the activity:
- Get your pitch right - practice it, live it, make it clear what you are looking for
- Follow up contacts that you make and strike when the iron's hot
- Keep a track of who you are making contact with
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Michelle Carvill is owner and Marketing Director at Carvill Creative - a graphic design and marketing services agency based in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The agency covers all aspects of graphic design and marketing - covering social media marketing and website planning and website design.