"Building Your Brand Through Networking"
by Pauline Bartel, M.A.

You can spot Tortoises and Hares at any typical networking event. Hares dart about the room, meeting, greeting, and shoving business cards at all the faces they encounter. “When you’re ready to buy, just pick up the phone,” Hares call out as they scurry from one potential prospect to the next.

Meanwhile, Tortoises converse with only four or five new people, discussing details of each individual’s business. “Who would be a good prospect for you?” Tortoises inquire. Tortoises ask for the person’s business card, then introduce the person to others at the event.

The Tortoise approach to networking allows you to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships and to brand your image on the minds of new networking contacts. The results? You’ll generate more business. Here’s the strategy:

Come Out of Your Shell

Some businesspeople think that networking isn’t compatible with their professions. Others who are shy feel intimidated when confronted with a roomful of strangers. Still others don’t understand the nature of networking or how to network effectively.

Networking is the process of gathering information, helping other people, and building win-win relationships. You’ve been networking for years in your everyday life. When you moved to a new community, you probably asked your neighbors for help in finding a kid to mow your lawn. When the people next door planned a weekend getaway, they probably asked you to collect their mail. Community relationships are built on knowing, liking, and trusting one another. This type of synergy occurs in the business world, too, through networking.

At the heart of networking is the principle that people do business with other people as a result of knowing, liking, and trusting them. A corollary principle states that each person has a circle of influence of about 250 people. This circle of influence includes immediate family members, distant relations, close friends, casual acquaintances, business associates, and anyone else who intersects the person’s life. Thus, if you meet one new person, you gain indirect access to that person’s circle of influence, including individuals who can use your product or service. By meeting new people and cultivating a network of solid relationships, your business will boom. This process begins when you come out of your shell and decide to add effective networking to your marketing mix.

Move Slowly and Steadily

Networking opportunities abound during business events, Chamber functions, and association meetings. The challenge becomes deciding where your networking efforts will have the greatest impact. A good rule of thumb is to seek those opportunities that will connect you with individuals in complementary professions. For example, the meetings of an area home-builders association would be fertile ground for a mortgage broker. Compile a list of target organizations, obtain their events schedule, prioritize the gatherings where prospective networking contacts are likely to be, then show up.

Showing up gets you through the door. Managing the room gets networking started. At the sign-in table, a mortgage broker might ask for the names of real estate professionals who are at the event and then mingle in the crowd, scanning nametags. You might look for conversational clusters that you can join, or you might seek out the person standing alone.

Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. The person will no doubt do the same. Keep the conversational ball rolling by asking open-ended questions such as: How did you get started in your business? What do you do better than your competition? What are your current business challenges? How do you get customers? Who would be a good prospect for you?

Listen more than you speak, remaining alert for chances to help the individual. For example, if the person mentions feeling overly stressed, you can mention the wonderful massages you get regularly for stress relief. Promise to share the massage therapist’s telephone number. As your chat winds down, ask for the person’s business card and offer yours. Jot notes on the back of the person’s card as a reminder of any special follow-up that you promised to do (e.g., send the telephone number of massage therapist). Scan the room to find someone you know who would enjoy meeting the person, make an introduction, then move on to the next conversation.

Stick Your Neck Out

If you stick your neck out, you’ll be head and shoulders above the crowd. Distinguish yourself by sending a handwritten thank-you note to each person you meet at a networking event. Most of the other attendees won’t bother to do so, because it seems like too much trouble.

In the note, mention that you enjoyed meeting the individual, comment on some nugget of your conversation, and state that you will keep the person in mind should an opportunity to refer business occur. Do any special follow-up and send the note within 24 hours of the event.

Recipients will be impressed. You will be branded on their minds as the person who showed interest in them, who asked how you could help them, and who introduced them to others. And they will remember you.

Cross the Finish Line

To make sure that you remain in the thoughts of the networking prospects you’ve met, keep in touch throughout the year. Clip and send articles that relate to their businesses. Mail a congratulations card when the newspaper announces a significant business or personal achievement. Forward leads for potential business along with a note wishing the person well in pursuing the opportunity. These tactics will keep you gently on their minds. Then when they or someone within their circle of influence needs your product or service, they’ll think of you, and your phone will ring. That’s when you’ll know that you’ve crossed the finish line.

Networking builds win-win relationships, brands your image on the minds of prospective customers, and leads to increased business. When you help people reach their goals, they’ll help you reach yours. And you’ll leave your competition in the dust.

 

Author Bio:

Pauline Bartel is the owner of Bartel Communications, a Waterford, NY-based company that builds the image of companies with words. Pauline specializes in corporate communications, including writing and editing, public relations and marketing, training and professional development and in commercial writing and publishing in the magazine and book fields.

Copyright © 2002 by Pauline Bartel
All Rights Reserved

Contact Details

Bartel Communications Inc.
12½ Division Street
Waterford, NY 12188
Telephone/FAX (518) 237-1353

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