The goal of networking is always essentially the same: Reach as many people as possible, and make every connection count. It's a necessary tool for every homebased-business owner who wants to increase sales and visibility--efficiently and inexpensively.
One way to begin networking is to join at least two organizations: one related to your peer group and another related to the target market of your business. The target market group allows you to meet people, exchange ideas and possibly expand your client base, while the peer group promotes the sharing of knowledge and referrals with others in your field.
"A homebased CPA might choose to join the American Institute of CPAs to schmooze with his counterparts and peers," says Lynne Waymon, author ofSmart Networking: How to Turn Contacts Into Cash, Clients and Career Success (Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., $18, 800-228-0810). "If his goal is primarily to serve the accounting needs of associations, he could join the American Society of Association Executives for referrals and the chance to meet potential clients."
"Networking" is building up a stable of friends who can help you and your business. To find associations in your field, Waymon suggests asking colleagues and searching The Encyclopedia of Associations (a reference book published by Gale Publishing and available at most public libraries). Finding an appropriate peer group can be as simple as examining what you already do on a daily basis. "Everyone is a potential member of a group in about six different arenas--family, a church or religious organization, an alumni association, a trade or industry group, a hobby group, a sports team or a children's organization," Waymon says.
Waymon believes there are three key moments in typical patterns of human interaction when you can take greatest advantage of networking; she calls them the "million-dollar moments" of networking. "These three key moments happen over and over in every relationship," she says. "If you can get good at them, then you have a network." These are the three million-dollar networking moments when you can make an impression: exchanging names, presenting your job title and making small talk.
1. When exchanging names. This is your chance to teach another person your name and make sure you remember his or hers. Waymon recommends saying your name twice, slowly. This way, she says, you give people two chances to remember your name. And giving the other person a trick or tip to remember your name further cements it in his or her mind.
"When you're learning someone else's name, don't glance furtively at his name tag, as if looking is forbidden," Waymon says. "Be curious about the name. Set a goal to remember it long enough to introduce the person to someone else."
2. When presenting your job title. "If you simply say you're a lawyer, a CPA or a graphic artist, it doesn't really tell what you do," Waymon says. She suggests composing a two-sentence explanation. The first sentence should describe your talents or skills; the second sentence should relate an example of something you've done recently--a project, a success or a new skill you've accomplished. For example, the first sentence from a CPA that Waymon has coached is: "I negotiate with the IRS." His second sentence could be: "As a CPA, I convinced the IRS that my client's horse farm is not a hobby."
3. When making small talk. Don't pass up the opportunity to make the most of mundane questions. Waymon, who has studied networking in social settings since 1987, says such questions can actually offer opportunities for exchange. "Create an agenda of topics you can discuss--something that you know, care about or are looking for," she says. "Choose an item from your personal agenda and one from your business agenda." For example, when someone asks Waymon "What's new?" she answers, "I just went to gospel singing camp." A business-related response might be, "I'm learning a new software program."
The topics are limitless, with only one exception: "You can't say, `I'm looking for clients for my business,' " she says. "That violates all the rules of good networking."
Carolyn Campbell, a home-office entrepreneur for 20 years, has written more than 200 magazine articles.
Volunteer Your Time
Volunteer work has paid off as a networking tool for Heidi Brennan, public policy director for Mothers-At-Home, a national, nonprofit support organization for stay-at-home moms. "While the idea of giving away your time may seem counterproductive, volunteering is the ultimate networking tool," she says. "It forces you to meet a cross-section of people, and allows them to see you perform without the messiness of contracts and employment. When people observe your skills and accomplishments in a volunteer setting, they are going to tap you for other assignments. Working together in a volunteer capacity can be like a trial marriage for future business associates, to see if you could also work together in a business setting."
Networking is a Two-Way Street
"Before you go to a meeting, spend two to three minutes thinking about what you have to offer, what you need to get from the networking opportunity and ways you can sell yourself," advises Beverly Williams, president of the American Association of Home-Based Businesses. "If you make contact by asking for help, people feel less threatened, because it isn't as if you're asking them to buy something. It helps to join groups that give you an opportunity to get to know people on occasions that aren't selling situations."
Brennan has discovered that everyone counts in networking. "Everybody you meet matters--not just those in your field," Brennan says. "You can discover new contacts and ideas from the person you sit next to at the church picnic or in your child's dentist's office, someone sitting across from you at the bank or your wife's business associate. What matters is being interested and sharing your ideas--what you like, do, or are interested in. Don't worry about trying to sell yourself. If you are genuinely interested and share your thoughts with people, new ideas and contacts will naturally emerge. Networking generates the unpredictable."
Jay Massey, owner of Coco Graphics, a Web-site design company in Pensacola, Florida, would no doubt agree. While buying milk at a small, locally owned convenience store, he struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter. "She asked about my business and we had a nice chat," Massey says. Through subsequent conversations, he discovered that the woman and her brother were developing a new hotel franchise, Ashbury Suites and Inns. "Now my company is handling all corporate communications strategy and implementation for Lodging Hospitality Systems, the parent company for Ashbury Suites and Inns," Massey says. "It was the best gallon of milk I ever invested in."
Before attending a meeting, consider what you hope to give and receive. Plan ahead to present this information in a way that will make your business memorable. Williams believes you will be most successful if you're able to say, "I do this, and if you need this, call me."
Williams recently did this at a Chamber of Commerce meeting she attended. There were many desktop publishers at the meeting and she knew she would have to say something unique about her business in order to stand out. She had recently found a printer who offered recycled paper at the same price as regular paper, so she stood and said, "As a desktop publisher, I've always wanted to be environmentally safe. I am now able to offer affordable recycled paper in my business." At the end of the meeting, at least three people were ready to place orders with her.
However you choose to go about it, networking offers opportunities to build your business by discovering new resources and building your client base. By planning ahead, joining groups and actively sharing your ideas on a daily basis, you will continue to make contacts who will add ideas--and customers--to your business.
Great Connections, Small Talk and Networking for Businesspeople, by Lynne Waymon (Impact Publications, $19.95, 800-361-1055), describes how to join a group of people who are already talking, how to strike up conversations, how to come up with topics to talk about, how to revive dying conversations and how to adapt your skills to meet the toughest networking challenges.
Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty, by Harvey Mackay (Currency Publishers, $24.95, 800-258-4233), written by a nationally syndicated columnist and CEO, describes how to get to know the people you need to know, how to keep relationships up to date and alive, how to ask for what you need when you need it and how to sparkle on the Internet.
Roslyn Goldmacher, executive director of the Long Island Development Corp., an economic development company in Plainview, New York, offers the following suggestions for networking at conventions and seminars:
- Wear your name tag on your right shoulder. When someone shakes your hand, his or her line of sight is to your right shoulder.
- Make sure your name is printed in big letters on your name tag.
- Don't smoke unless others are.
- If you attend a business meeting with a friend or associate, split up. It's a waste of time to talk or sit together.
- If you don't know anyone, stand in the food or bar line. That way, you'll always have at least two people to talk to--the one in front of you and the one behind you.
- Don't be afraid to smile, extend your hand and introduce yourself.
- Be enthusiastic and positive; don't grumble or lament your tough day. People want to do business with a winner, not a whiner.
- Don't butt in. Interrupting will create a bad first impression. Stand close by and, when a pause or opening presents itself, ease into the conversation.
- Stay at the event until the end. The longer you stay, the more contacts you'll make.
- After the seminar or convention, follow up good contacts immediately with a letter or a phone call.
American Association of Home-Based Businesses, P.O. Box 10023, Rockville, MD 20849, (800) 447-9710
Coco Graphics, (850) 434-2626, http://www.cocographics.com
Lynne Waymon, (800) 352-2939, email@example.com