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Networking as a corner stone of business development strategy

Hi Class, welcome back! Today I am going to write about a topic that I am unusually passionate about; networking. Of course I am not talking about wiring up computers, but the kind of networking you can do at tradeshows. There are many additional networking opportunities outside of tradeshows also. Usually I don’t write much about non-tradeshow related topics, but networking is so important that I feel we need to talk about this topic as a whole.


Networking has been instrumental for me in building Tradeshow Teacher. I would be nowhere near where I am today were it not for the steady stream of referrals I get from my networking contacts. Here’s the surprising thing, my most valuable contacts have never been customers, nor are likely to ever be customers. A key part of building a solid business network is to build relationships where you can help each other, not trying to sell each other on your own products or services.

You will find that some of your contacts will turn into real friends. My favorite example is a contact I met during a joint press tour. He is probably the person who taught me most about networking. He was nicknamed “the mayor” because he just knew everyone in his industry. He took me under his wing and really showed me the value of networking. He is now affectionately known as my step dad, and was just as proud and happy as my real dad when I got married a few years ago.  I can turn to him and many others in my base of close contacts every time I need business advice, bounce some ideas around or get some vendor recommendations. Sometimes its even simple things like advice on restaurants in certain cities.

Today’s lesson will cover the key information you need to better understand strategic networking. If you happen to be attending TS2 in Boston this year, a colleague of mine and I are holding a seminar on networking skills on July 13th at 10:30am where you can learn detailed step-by-step techniques and receive free support material such as networking planning tools, scripts etc.

Strategic Networking Applied
Strategic networking is all about making connections and creating mutually, mutually is really important here, beneficial relationships. Those relationships will lead to business you otherwise would not even find out about, and let’s face it; people are much more inclined to do business with people they know or people they have been referred to by someone they trust.

You can network anywhere, an airport lounge or even the ATM line, but tradeshows are a particularly good place because you have broad access to the kind of contacts you would like to meet.

Many people think of networking events as a place where there is free food and you can hang out with your co-workers after a busy day on the show floor. At best, they make a little effort to collect some business cards and hope to meet some potential prospects, and while free food and drinks are not bad things, you need to be much more strategic about networking. While it is certainly possible, and not without value, to meet contacts that can be turned into clients, my advice is to spend your time and energy on meeting contacts that can open doors for you that otherwise remain closed.

Here are a couple of examples of things you can do with a strong network of contacts:

Make things happen
: If you have the right contacts, you can get information, deals or other things you need quickly and efficiently. With a couple of phone calls, you can “make things happen”.

Partner
: As you build relationships with your networking contacts you will find that there are many partnership opportunities you can take advantage of.

Referrals
: Ultimately they are the most valuable part of a good network. Prospects that have been referred to you are much more likely to become clients, and all this in a usually much shorter sales cycle. Never forget this is a two way street, you can’t just take and never give. You also have to provide your contacts with referrals, and guess what, odds are the more you give the more you get.

Advice
: Never underestimate the value of advice. Chances are one of your contacts has been in a similar situation and has experience you don’t. There is no need to make a mistake someone else has already made.

Exchange Ideas
: Bouncing ideas off your network contacts is a great thing to do. Very often you will be given ideas or points of view you would never have thought of yourself. For example, while chatting with a contact of mine he gave me an idea for a completely untapped market, and he was able to introduce me to key contacts in that market.

Employment
: Of course I want all of you to be perfectly happy in stable jobs, however the reality is sometimes you need a new one. You may want to further your career, move closer to your other half, or you simply need a new job because the old one didn’t work out. The easiest way to get a job is by having one of your contacts personally refer you for the job, or refer you to the right person to speak to. Your contacts might also be able to help in other ways like providing letters of recommendations; and never forget to help them if they are in need of support.

So I hope I have you convinced that personal networking is important and works. Yet this is 2010, we have online networking as well, and just like personal networking it works, though the rules and the processes are a little different. You have to put some time and energy into online networking, essentially you have to build yourself an online presence and make yourself known. Linked-in is probably the best known online networking tool. Search for and reach out to possible contacts, find and join groups, and actively contribute to them by using your specific expertise.  Personally, I have received quite a few business opportunities through Linked-In, including being hired to do tradeshow training webinars and seminars in the US, and even a seminar tour in India.

So here is some practical advice. Being a planner, I recommend making a plan to reach the audience you are looking to get in contact with, and you should consistently update that plan.

Establish Expertise and Credibility
You can use social networking sites to establish your expertise, become a person that others want to make contact with and build relationships.
A few ways you can do this is by:

  • Providing timely news on your industry
  • Submitting articles
  • Answering questions
  • Commenting on posts
  • Target Audience

Be strategic; find your target audience on the social networking sites you use. One of the most effective methods is to join groups within your industry and the industries of key prospects, as well as key contacts you want to connect with.

Contacts
Find contacts you want to connect with by searching for them directly or by searching for things such as their industry. Send an invitation to connect, if your invite is accepted reply with an offer to make connections for them, and arrange a time when you can call to get to know each other better.

Referrals
Whenever possible find ways to make referrals for your contacts, in turn they are likely to do the same.

Okay, that was it for today. There is limited home work today; follow the guidelines for online networking, and if you feel
I might fit in, by all means send me an invite!

About Linda Musgrove, the Tradeshow Teacher

Linda Musgrove is president of the Tradeshow Training firm, Tradeshow Teacher. She focuses on teaching companies to significantly improve tradeshow results through strategic, customized tradeshow training for individuals, departments or entire teams. Training options include phone consulting, webinars, seminars and one-on-one in person coaching. Musgrove authored “The Complete Idiots Guide to Tradeshows,” published by Alpha Books/Penguin Publishing. Learn more at www.tsteacher.com and sign up for the free monthly Tradeshow Tactics newsletter. Follow on Twitter at: twitter.com/tsteacher.

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