|IMG_1399, a photo by ENZPACEphotos on Flickr.|
In the world of small business, networking is touted as the best method for acquiring new business leads. It sure beats cold calling prospective clients. And for an individual who spends hours alone in a home office, networking functions are both a welcome break and a reason to get dressed in real clothing.
Networking can be a terrific avenue for growing your business. After all, relationships are the key to business, and networking helps to build relationships. But too much networking, or the wrong approaches to it, can make it an expensive as well as unproductive marketing tactic.
Here are some of the more common networking mistakes:
- Not knowing who you want to meet. You might not go to a function with a specific person in mind, but you need to know your target market. Without that information you might be in the entirely wrong place. If your market is executives, go where the executives hang out. If you deal with micro businesses, attend small business functions.
- Sitting on the sidelines. You might feel uncomfortable at first, but everyone at a networking function is in the same boat. Keep your goals in mind to help you overcome any feelings of shyness you might have. Take a wing man with you, but only if you help one another to circulate. The idea is to mix and mingle with a variety of people so you can know and become known.
- Settling in on one conversation. Sometimes discomfort with meeting strangers or feeling like a fish out of water causes people to find a willing conversationalist and then stay there. This is a mistake for a couple of reasons. First, that person, like you, is there to meet people. When you park there you are interfering with them achieving their goals. Second, this is not the setting for an in-depth conversation. Set an appointment to talk later and move on. Think of it this way - if you have invested $20 in attending this function, one lead costs you $20. If you acquire ten leads, each will only have cost you $2. Which is the more sensible economic approach?
- Engaging in selling behavior. Networking is about building relationships. Your job is to meet people there. You have to earn the right to present your product or service to them, and if you're doing the networking job correctly you won't have time to gather enough information right now at the function to know whether this person in front of you is a real live prospect, a suspect (potential prospect), a potential center of influence or just another person there with his or her own goals to achieve. Too much selling behavior too soon is a big turn-off, and it can cause you to lose real opportunities.
- Over-serving oneself at the bar. Perhaps this should go without saying, but when you are in business settings you want to have your wits about you, and alcohol can interfere with this. It can feel like a relief to reduce some of your social inhibitions by having a beer or a glass of wine, but too much can cause you to make mistakes. Irresponsible behavior with alcohol can translate into people assuming you are irresponsible in other ways - not a good position to be in when you are trying to build a positive image for yourself and your business.
In summary, networking is a great way to become known in your business community. It can, however, consume significant financial and time resources. If it's a big part of your marketing mix, make sure that you're getting your money's worth.