“Just wanted to let you know that we just had our first meeting with Teresa and it was rocking! I knew it would be...I just needed to be ready. Of course, she was organized, had great observations about our practice, listened attentively and had ideas about some of the items I had questions about. I am feeling really great about it! Gene and I are ready to kill it this year!”

--Michelle R. Alberda, CFP

Article: Build Your Business Through Networking

Admit it.

Somewhere you have a drawer full of business cards. Maybe they have a rubber band around them. Maybe they are neatly tucked away in a box. Or, possibly, they are just sitting in piles on the top of your desk collecting dust.

Either way, your good intentions were to use these business cards to grow your business.

Instead, what has happened is you’ve forgotten who these people are and why they may have been a good contact for you. In fact, they have been sitting around for so long that the rubber band has dried out and broken into pieces.

Be honest, some form of neglect on your part has occurred.

So now what?

There are several ways you can redeem yourself.

1. Throw all of them away and start a new with a program designed for success. You may gasp at the thought of doing this, but think about how much good they have been doing you by gathering dust, making you feel guilty about not doing something with them.

2. Sort them to see if a spark of recognition ignites as you look through them. Divide them into piles:

  • Prospects-possible client or referral source
  • Business Resources-may be someone good to partner on a project with in the future
  • Personal Resources-may need a good painter (or whatever) someday
  • Toss-get these out of your radar

If you write a newsletter or e-zine, do speaking engagements or teach, most of these contacts can go on your mailing list. Yes, even the business cards you plan to toss can be added to your mailing list before you put them in the recycle bin.

We will discuss what to do with the prospects in a moment.

As for the business resources, you may want to divide them up in a fashion that makes sense to you, such as how you know them.

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Women’s networking group
  • Toastmasters
  • B 2 B
  • Rotary

Or in some manner that will help you find them in your database when you want to.

3. If you have notes or a very good memory, you can get started right away setting up your system to touch base and follow up with these people.

As you know, it is always easier to contact someone if you have something specific to discuss. It could be something as simple as the name of a restaurant, a web site resource, the name and author of a book, or an article you have written. It might be to set up a time to meet for coffee. More on this later.

It doesn’t matter what format you use for your follow up. What matters is implementation and follow through.  For my presentation I use an index card box, colored index cards and 1-31 tabs. It is a great visual and easy to travel with.

Some people have used file folders, some have found a binder to be a good option for them and many use the contact database system on their computer. Use whatever system is going to be easiest for you. Again, implementation and follow through will offer the most rewards, so use what works.

Okay, now what?

You followed my advice and made a good connection with someone you met at a Chamber meeting (we will get to the making the connection part). You exchanged business cards because this gentleman expressed an interest in your article on eliminating paper clutter.

Immediately, meaning that same day, make a note on his business card:

  • Where you met and the date.
  • What you promised to do ie. Send him a copy of your article.  (You may decide to send him the name of your favorite book on the subject as well).

That same day, or the next day at the latest, make as many notes on your index card, or whatever contact management system you decided to use, of any and all information regarding this contact, even information regarding his family or whatever came up in the conversation.  You want to have as much information available. Attach his business card to the index card of information, or enter all of the information from his business card into your contact database, along with the notes from your conversation.

Within two days, send him the information. Don’t procrastinate. You are a professional that is on top of things, or at least that’s the appearance you want to give.

Include a note that you enjoyed speaking with him, hope he enjoys the article and that you will follow up with him next week to see if he has any questions or would like additional information. Here you might want to include other article titles that might be of interest to him.  Think about additional contact opportunities for the future.

Put his business card (with index card attached) in your contact database for one week out. Meaning, if today is the 7th, put his contact information behind the 14 tab. Make yourself a note of what you sent. Review this information and your notes just prior to making the call on the 14th.

This is how you can make a connection without it feeling like a cold call.  He requested information from you, you provided it along with an offer to follow up with him. Very professional.

When the day comes when it is time to call him, remember, during this first conversation DO NOT TRY TO SELL ANYTHING. 

You are following up on the information you sent him and asking if any of the other article topics you sent to him were of interest.

Ask him about himself, his business and what he considers a good referral or prospect for himself.  Remember to fall back on the widget questions if you need. These are provided at the end.

Try to have something else to follow up with him on. This could even be information that he now owes you.  If this is the case, give him a week or so to get it to you. Put a note on his index card and put him back into your contact database system for a week out. If you don’t receive the information, give him a reminder call.

Build rapport without sounding salesy. Ask questions and be genuinely interested. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, their background, their business. Pay attention to what he is saying to see if he mentions anything that you might be able to help him with.

Make notes about your conversation, send any information he requested and continue following up using your contact database system, keeping the focus on him until an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

Soon you will be able to determine if this person is a good prospect for you. If so, continue on down that path. If not, maybe you made a new friend, or maybe this gentleman knows someone who could use your services. He may become a good referral source for your services.  If so, make sure he understands what makes a good prospect for you. This information is provided in a separate article.

This gentleman’s business card, along with the notes you take will continue to work its way through your contact database system until you have determined how the relationship will progress. At some point he will be taken out of your prospect database system.

Remember, today we are talking about prospects and how to turn them into clients. What to do with their information once they become a client, friend or a source for referrals is the topic for another time.

Now, let’s talk about how to get to the point of asking for his business card and if all goes well, him asking for yours.

The Networking Event and How to Make It Less Scary

Don’t come hungry-eat before coming or arrive early and eat. You want to have your hands free during the event. There is nothing more awkward than trying to shake hands, get your business card out or take notes when your hands are full.

Arrive early and act like a host, welcoming people as they arrive, chatting with them and if appropriate, introducing them to others. Pick three people who interest you the most.  Spend additional time with them throughout the evening.

Make sure you have plenty of your business cards with at least a few very easy access.

It is okay to come with a friend or colleague, but don’t spend the entire evening with them.  Divide and conquer. As a team you have an opportunity to connect with a greater number of people.  Your friend may make a connection with someone that could be a terrific resource for you. If so, she can introduce the two of you to one another.

Once you get the other person’s business card, take a good look at it. You may be able to keep the conversation going by asking about an interesting feature, his title or even the color scheme of the card.

Arrive with a goal or intention. Your goal should not be to hand out as many business cards as you can. This is very unproductive. Depending on the length of time of the event, your goal should be to make three to four good solid connections.

As I mentioned earlier, let your focus be on the other person. Be genuinely interested and ask questions. I have included a list of questions that you can keep tucked in the back of your mind to help you if the conversation begins to lag.

If the person you are speaking with asks about you, be polite and answer their question(s), but try to turn the attention back to them. Remember, the best conversationalists are those that listen.

You are listening for opportunities to follow up with him and determine if the services you provide can be of benefit to him. But, don’t jump in just yet. At some point later on you will have an opportunity to tell him how you might be able to help.

Don’t feel obligated to continue a conversation that is going nowhere. To excuse yourself from the conversation, you may want to use a closing phrase like, “It was nice speaking with you, I guess I’d better go mingle some more; enjoy the evening”. Or, “Excuse me, I have to visit the restroom.” Or, “Would you excuse me?  I’m going to say hello to our host.” (or, “ …to a friend I haven’t seen in a while.”)

Remember, with those you would like to connect with later, have a reason to follow up with them. At the end of the event, or even during, make notes that are memorable and specific. It might be just one or two points.  That’s okay.  But getting as much information as you can now and making notes about it will help you down the road.

The conversation you might have with this gentleman after say two to four contacts where he has been the focus starts like this:

“Tom, over the past several weeks, every time we have spoken you have mentioned your distress about having too little time to accomplish all of the things on your TO DO list. 

I really feel your frustration and have been thinking about how I might be able to help.

As a professional organizer, one of my most requested services is help with time management and developing a system of efficiently tackling the TO DO list.” And so the conversation goes.

I can tell you are starting to get the idea.

  • Go with intention
  • Be genuinely interested in others
  • Ask good questions
  • Take good notes
  • Find a reason to follow up
  • Follow up
  • Continue to follow through
  • Decide the outcome-prospect to client, referral source, friend

If you follow these steps, you will always have a pipeline (index card box) chock full of potential business, with prospects that won’t feel that you are cold calling them.

And, don’t be scared or nervous. Avoiding rejection isn’t productive. Rejection won’t kill you-right?

Take the information you have learned and begin applying it right now!

Ten networking questions that work every time 

Compliments of Bob Burg, author of Endless Referrals.

How did you get your start in the widget business?

People like to be the Movie of the Week in someone else’s mind. “I worked my way through college, then started in the mail room…and finally began the fascinating career of selling widgets”. Let them share their story with you while you actively listen.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Again, it’s a question that elicits a good, positive feeling. And it should get you the positive response you are seeking. By this time you have got him on a roll.

What separates you and your company from the competition?

I call this the permission to brag question. All our lives we are taught not to brag about ourselves and our accomplishments, yet you have given this person carte blanche to do so.

What advice would you give someone just starting in the widget business?

This is my mentor question. Don’t we all like to feel like a mentor-to feel that our answer matters. Give your new networking prospect a chance to feel like a mentor by asking this question.

What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?

This is a paraphrase of a question from noted theologian and author Dr. Robert Schuller, who asks, “What one thing would you do with your life if you knew you could not fail”?  We all have a dream, don’t we?  What is this person’s dream? The question gives him a chance to fantasize. He will appreciate the fact that you cared enough to ask. And you will notice that people always take a few moments to really ponder before they answer.

What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?

Asking people who are a little bit more mature in years can be perfect because they love answering this question. They have gone through the computer age, the takeover of fax machines, the transition from a time when service really seemed to matter.

What do you see as the coming trends in the widget business?

I call this the speculator question. Aren’t people who are asked to speculate usually important, hot-shot types on television? You are therefore giving them a chance to speculate and share their knowledge with you. You are making them feel good about themselves.

Describe the strangest or funniest incident you have experienced in your business?

Give people the opportunity to share their war stories. That’s something practically everyone likes to do, isn’t it? Don’t we all have stories we like to share from when we began in business? Something very embarrassing happened that certainly wasn’t funny then but is now. The problem is, most people don’t get the chance to share these stories.  You, however, are actually volunteering to be that person’s audience.

What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?

Again, you are accentuating the positive in this person’s mind, while finding out something about the way he thinks. However, if you happen to be in the advertising field, absolutely do not ask this question. Why? Because right now it would be a probing question and it would be perceived as such by your networking prospect. Eventually you will get to ask that question, but not now.

What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?

Almost always, the person will stop and think really hard before answering this question.  What a compliment you have paid him. You’ve asked a question that, quite possibly, the people who are closest to him have never thought enough to ask.

And don’t forget the all important question.

How can I know if someone I’m talking to is a good prospect for you?

You may be wondering if a person will feel as though you are being nosey asking these questions during a first meeting. The answer is no. Remember, you won’t get to ask more than just a few of these questions during your initial conversation. More importantly, these are questions people enjoy answering.

As I mentioned before, keep these questions in the back of your mind in case you need to keep the conversation going. Decide on your favorites and practice asking them in your own words.

Think of networking as making friends on purpose. Connect with someone first as a person, not a prospect.