Old School Business: The value of face-to-face networking in an electronic age

Shaking Hands

As we enter into a brand-new decade where it seems technology is king and business relationships are being built on your computer screen, iPhone, and Blackberry, it is more essential to go “old school” in order to propitiously build relationships that will earn you business. That means face-to-face, not avatar-to-avatar. In old school terms, get out of your chair and start pressing flesh!

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against social media. In fact, I use it on a daily basis as part of my marketing strategy. Its purpose (from a business approach) should be to enhance your brand, build community, promote your resources, and generally distribute your value on a worldwide scale. Spending more than about 45 minutes a day on it is a wasteful use of your valuable time. The reality is, always has been, and always will be that in order to truly build relationships with potential business partners, you must get out and network.

The key to this process is networking adeptly. Running yourself ragged from breakfasts to luncheons to after-hours will only devour your time and increase your waistline. It rarely brings in the business you desire. To manage your time wisely and get the most out of networking, I offer my 5-step formula:

1. Do your homework. Determine where potential buyers of your services network. Create a list of individuals that you want to meet. Find a way to be at those places. Referral groups are NOT the place to meet these people. Better options are non-profit events, service club organizations, trade association functions, chamber of commerce committee work, pro-bono work, etc. You can add to this list based on your services and expertise. All “functions” are NOT created equal. Only attend those that will provide you the opportunity to meet key decision makers in your target market.

2. Seek out people you don’t know. What’s the use of networking with people who already know you. Sure, there’s an opportunity to build on relationships that have already started, but in my experience that’s not what happens. Usually, it’s a familiarity issue where networkers lack the self-confidence to strike up a conversation with someone new. They are safe in their group. Bust out of this shell and force yourself to interact with others who need to learn of your value.

3. Never sell. Networking functions are never a good place to “pitch” your business. This is the time to build relationships. Ditch the “elevator speech” and become a proficient questioner and listener. Find out about them and be in the moment.

4. Offer value. Give away value for free. Offer your articles or white papers if appropriate for their use. Offer to connect them with another person that can be beneficial to their business. Provide them with resources that fit their needs. How do you find out if it makes sense for them? You ask good questions, you listen, and you sincerely provide value to improve their condition.

5. Follow up. If they are truly a potential user of your products and services, offer to meet them at a later date. See if you can schedule a meeting on the spot. Follow up with e-mail. Add them to your free mailing list. There are a variety of ways to do this, including electronically. But the initial follow up must be personal.

Don’t become trapped in cyberspace. If you do, you will limit your market and never really build the trusting relationship that is required to do business. Tomorrow, you can begin to transform your networking prowess by implementing the five steps, which cost nothing and are quite painless. Then, you will begin to reap the rewards of better relationships, improved time management, and increased business.

(Author: Dan Weedin of The Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal)

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