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Network Like a Pro

Want people to talk about your business? Time to take your networking skills to the next level

Q: I want to start a business selling products and/or services over the Internet, and I think word-of-mouth marketing would really help attract traffic. My question is, how do I overcome the obstacle of being an incorrigible cave dweller? I have never been a good mixer--it's just not my style. Are there ways I can work around this weakness, or must I become an extrovert in order to succeed?

A: In her book Skills for Success: A Guide to the Top for Men and Women , Adele Scheele describes a cocktail party where she met someone who was hesitant to introduce himself to total strangers. Scheele suggested that he "consider a different scenario for the evening. That is, consider himself the party's host instead of the guest." She asked him, if he were the host, wouldn't he introduce himself to people he didn't know and then introduce them to each other? Wouldn't he make sure people knew where the food and drinks were? Wouldn't he watch for lulls in conversations or bring new people over to an already-formed small group?

Scheele's new acquaintance acknowledged the obvious difference between the active role of the host and the passive role of the guest. A host is expected to do things for others, while a guest sits back and relaxes. "There was nothing to stop this man from playing the role of host even though he wasn't the actual host," Scheele concluded. And there is nothing to stop you from being far more active when you're with a large group of people, either.

Along this line, I recommend that you volunteer to be an ambassador, or a visitor host, at the networking groups you belong to--someone who greets all the visitors and introduces them to others. If you see visitors sitting, introduce yourself and ask if they'd like to meet other members.

If there are many other visitors to meet, ask another member to help you by introducing the visitor to the rest of the membership so that you can get back to meeting new visitors. By using this technique, you'll start to develop excellent networking skills and get great exposure to many business professionals in a short time. Over the years, I've found that people who are naturally shy or uncomfortable have great success using this technique.

A distinguishing characteristic of self-made millionaires is that they network everywhere. Most important, they do it all the time--at business conferences, at the health club, on the golf course or with the person sitting next to them on a plane. This fact alone should motivate you to place yourself in situations where you can meet new people. As you feel more comfortable with this process, you'll find it easier to sit between strangers at business meetings or strike up a conversation with people at the spa.

It's important to find the time to leave your cave and meet other qualified business professionals regularly, or you'll never develop a prosperous word-of-mouth-based business. Networking is a contact sport! If you don't develop effective relationships, you can't possibly create a powerful, diverse and reliable network of contacts.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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