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February 25, 2013
Is networking part of your weekly routine? How many networking events are you going to each month? Are you taking the easy way out by spending most of your networking time on social media sites? Networking should be one of the first priorities for small business owners because most of your new business will come from referrals generated by your network.

Even though social media has exploded and can provide some great benefits, it's face time not Facebook that will lead to more business.

For many small business owners, networking has become a bit of a buzzword and has lost much of its importance as a concept in their overall growth strategy. Without a plan for networking within your community or industry, your small business will not grow to its maximum potential.

It's best to start by putting together a plan and strategy on where you are going to spend your time, how often you are going to do this and what your specific objectives are for doing this. Showing up at a lot of events, shaking a lot of hands and handing out a lot of business cards is not a measure of effective networking. Most small business owners would argue that they don't ever sell anything at a networking event, and they would be correct. Selling at networking events should not be your objective. Networking is an opportunity to let other people know what you do, and also find out what they do. They might know people who could use what you have, and you might know some who could use what they have.

There are many opportunities around your community to participate in networking events. Chambers of Commerce, Rotaries, business associations, industry groups and professional associations all offer a tremendous opportunity to connect with new faces. Pick your networking events wisely because going to all of them is simply impossible. Select those where attendees are most likely to have similar customers that you are targeting and those that have a diverse set of attendees.

When you show up at a networking event, be prepared. It is not the time to spend 20 minutes telling a few people all about your business. It's a time to spend a few minutes with a lot of people letting them know who you are, what you do, the type of customers you serve and the value you provide. Having a pre-rehearsed "elevator statement" that you can quickly articulate is a must.

Networking events are not just about what attendees can do for you, it's what you might be able to do for them. Meeting new people and learning what they do, so that you might be able to provide them with referrals, is also a must. There is nothing better than building a relationship with someone new by giving them a referral that pans out to new business.

They'll probably reciprocate the favor.

If you're not attending networking events, you're missing a big opportunity to generate more business leads. Put a plan together and get out there. You'll be happy you did.

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Dick Jones is the Founder & President of Simply Sales in Alpharetta, Ga. As a 4th generation sales professional, he has over 30 years of experience advising, coaching, consulting and working with small business owners. Office: 770-663-4681, web: www.simplysalesllc.com
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