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Making Connections: Build Your Business Through Networking

While content and social media marketing are grabbing all the headlines, there's still no replacement for building business by getting out and meeting people face to face. Start small -- commit to attend one event per month -- and don't let excuses keep you away. Look for organizations that serve the needs of your potential customers like a Chamber of Commerce, or business partners like the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP).

If you're the type of person who is uncomfortable walking into a room with a bunch of strangers, you're not alone. Manage your stress by setting very specific, reasonable goals to help you focus on the purpose of your attendance. Make it easy -- talk to three people you don't know and exchange business cards. 

The Goal: Build New Relationships (Not Sell!)
Even though your end game is to find new customers, don't sell when you attend a networking event. The best way to engage someone in conversation is to ask them about themselves. Focus on what they are telling you, not on what you want to say to them. Listen for clues about the business challenges that they face, companies they work with and people they know. 

Even if the person you are talking to is not a good fit as a potential customer, they may be an advisor to other companies or have connections that could help you win business. You can't learn about that potential for referral business if you are doing the talking. By asking questions and listening, you may turn a conversation that seems to be going nowhere into a hot lead. 

Follow Up Quickly and Regularly
For those connections that you believe hold value for your organization -- either as a potential customer or a referral partner -- follow up the next day with something that will build your relationship. Send a friendly e-mail with an article on a topic you discussed or a link to a useful Web site. Demonstrate the value that you can bring to that person or to his clients without asking for any commitment.

Schedule follow-ups or send a note when you find something that might be useful to your new connection. Build that relationship as a "giver" and you will build your credibility. The real beauty of attending monthly events is that you get to see the folks that you talked to last month and follow up in person. 

Next week, we will look at specific organizations and how you can leverage them to build your business. Where are you building beneficial business relationships?  Please tell me about it so that we can share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 30, 2011