If you're trying to be successful, it's the difference between mediocre and big.
Networking is life skills and social skills combined with sales skills. It's business leisure conducted before and after work -- as opposed to business frantic, which is conducted from 9 to 5 (the exception being lunch).
Networking is a mandatory function of business for sales people and entrepreneurs, but everyone in every segment of commerce and career networks. Great scientists, electrical engineers, and surgeons all have their annual meeting of some kind where they get together and "talk shop." Giant trade shows attract buyers and sellers from all over the world.
A plan of where and when.
To maximize your networking effectiveness, you must follow one simple rule: RULE A1A -- go where your customers and prospects go, or are likely to be.
Ok, here we go -- the 21.5 BEST places to network are:
1. Chamber of Commerce Business after Hours. Tried and true. They always net a few contacts and renew old friendships. They are also a GREAT place to try out your new 30-second personal commercial. NOTE: Often at a business networking event everyone's trying to sell -- you gotta be able to wear either buyer or seller hat, and listen for your opportunity.
2. A high level Chamber of Commerce event. Board of directors or advisors meeting. Annual dinner. The Chamber of Commerce is your best local networking resource, IF you take advantage of it.
3. Any Business Journal event. Forty under forty, power breakfasts, seminars. Places where movers and shakers go. The Business Journal reader and event attendee demographics are staggering. They are ALL people who make things happen.
4. A networking club or business organization where solid business contacts belong and participate. In Charlotte it's groups like the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council, the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, and the Metrolina Business Council. The more you attend, the more you get known, grow, and succeed in your market.
5. Someplace where like-minded people belong. The Touchdown Club, your college alumni club, the ACT users club. Having common ground always gets a conversation going.
6. Any type of class you take to learn more and make yourself better. Toastmaster's, Dale Carnegie, even learning a foreign language. Other people who want to improve will also be there. You will improve and make lifetime friendships.
7. A civic organization. Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, Moose, Lions. Any civic animal will do. Meetings are a great place to build relationships with others, and help the community at the same time. SUCCESS HINT: Be a leader not just a member.
8. Attend a cultural event. The theater and the symphony attract people with class and money. Take in a show and meet them.
9. Get involved with a charity or be a community volunteer. Everything from the American Cancer Society to the symphony society has people who help behind the scenes. Be one of them.
10. Your trade or professional association. This is the best place to learn about your product, your competition AND your customers at the same time.
11. Your best customer(s) trade or professional association. This is the great place to learn more about your customers AND get introduced to your prospects. SUCCESS HINT: Be a seminar presenter, not just an attendee.
12. Trade shows. Both industry specific and general business shows are excellent places to get known, get sales, and get ahead. Take the success hint from above and add the ingredient of hard work rather than party and you have the formula for trade show success. It may be your best networking venue of them all, and most people waste it on having a "non-stop-whoop-it-up-we're-away-from-home" attitude.
13. Join a private club. A golf country club, a food and networking club like Club Corp. with branches all over the US, or a small private club. In Charlotte it's Belle Acres, America's premier private club. Great food (Mike the chef is beyond superb). Great atmosphere (fascinating memorabilia on every wall). Great service (always with a smile and some humor). Great owner (Bud mingles and his dry wit adds to the fun of being there). Oh, and great networking (every Charlotte big-wig eventually eats at Belle Acres).
14. Meal networking. Invite a prospect to dine. Then invite a prospect for him or her. While in the restaurant, see who else is in the bar. Hop around without being rude. Introduce everyone you meet to whoever you brought. Make it ultra friendly. Compliment everyone in your introduction. PERSONAL NOTE: I have a morning breakfast at Einstein's Bagels. I love the food and service. I have all my morning meetings there. I ALWAYS meet other people there. My breakfast meeting is always to do a deal. And often my chance meetings result in business. SUCCESS HINT: Own a restaurant or three. Places where you frequent and know the owners and managers. It plays a major role in your meal networking.
15. Health club. Exercise and network. Get healthy and wealthy at the same time. In Charlotte it's the "Y." Join the "in" club, and get "in" shape to win.
16. Sports events. Both games and tailgates. Everyone eventually goes to the ball game. And for the competitive sports nut within you, play The Networking Game, it's in my book "The Sales Bible."
17. Parents of your children's friends. If you have a big prospect whose kid plays ball in the same league as your kid, you'll have a big advantage to make him a big customer.
18. Happy hour. This can be a great place to make a quick connection. Just don't get too happy.
19. Karaoke. Not only do you have a blast and meet people, you also improve your presentation skills every time you sing a song.
20. Neighborhood homeowner's association/condo association. Get to know your neighbors and who they know.
21. The airplane. I don't mean you need to meet every passenger but get to know your seat mate. You never know who they know until you ask. I always try to sell a book to the person sitting next to me. It's fun, it's practice, and it's profitable.
21.5 Being ready to network when you get there. Woody Allen says 90% of success is showing up. And he's almost right. Ninety percent of success is showing up PREPARED. Having your personal commercial, or cocktail commercial, or one minute hook ready to spin at a moments notice is evidence of your networking prowess -- or not.
OK, I've given you the meat.
Here's your personal action plan: List the possible areas -- every one of them.
Figure out who goes there now and who MAY be there.
Figure out what business enticement you have and start there.
Secret: Get respected by those who count -- don't just attend -- get involved and lead.
Big secret: The key advantage is that networking is relaxed: business leisure. The work day is busy: business frantic. You'll get more done and see more people in the leisure zone.
Biggest secret: Antennas up at all times. My mentor and friend Earl Pertnoy has preached those words to me for more than twenty years. I don't care where you are: bathrooms, lines, lobbies of hotels, car washes, elevators, and restaurants are all game if you're alert. Follow Earl's advice as I do and you'll get the lead or the deal you were never expecting.
It is important to note that these "best places to network" are not just ideas and suggestions. Every item listed above is something I do personally, and have had MAJOR success with. These are things I do, not just things I teach.
Make contacts, make sales, eliminate cold calling, build your career, build relationships, build your reputation, and make friends. I have met my life-long best friends networking -- and I also do business with them -- thousands of dollars worth.
How many life long friends do you make cold-calling?
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Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of The Sales Bible, and Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts internet training programs on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org