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Effective Networking

When you attend a networking event, are you an effective listener? Do you have a great elevator pitch?
By Tara Ingalls, owner Tingalls Graphic Design
Below are just a few networking tips I’ve picked up the past few years to get the most out of your next event.
1. Bring Plenty of Business Cards. I’m always amazed how many people don’t bring enough or any business cards to a networking event. Your business card is your first impression and often the only way for someone to remember you in the stack of cards they leave the event with.
2. Listen. Whenever I meet someone new, I introduce myself and my company but then I try to ask an open-ended question like, “Tell me what you like most about your business?” or “What brought you to this interesting profession?” or “What challenges are you facing in this economy?” I genuinely listen to their answer and then respond. Even if the conversation goes on and on about them … it is always better to listen to see if there is a need for your service and not assume.
3. Be specific. It’s impossible in a networking situation to list all the products or services your company offers and the value they each provide.  Normally it’s hard enough to just get your name and company communicated in 2-3 minutes. My suggestion is to limit yourself to just one product or service and be extremely specific on the value that brings to your audience. For example, let’s take a carpet cleaner I met a few nights ago. I asked “Who would be a good referral for you?”  He said, “Anyone with carpets.” Well, everyone I know has a carpet including myself. It’s too difficult to narrow down the list of potential referrals in my head with such a brief statement nor does it have any value statement to compare him against his competition. What if he would have said, “One of our specialties is to treat the cleaning and preservation of oriental rugs with utmost care and concern.” Pow! Immediately I know someone who I can refer to this person, maybe even two.
4. Come early, stay late. The old adage “the early bird gets the worm” definitely applies to networking. Make the most out of the time you’ve carved away from the office. Arrive early and lend a hand on set-up and then stay late to help clean up. You never know who’ll you’ll meet.
5. Follow-up. So, you have a stack of business cards sitting on your desk … now what do you do with them? Follow-up of course! Personally I feel a hand-written note makes the best impression. Anyone can put all the email addresses in a bcc: field and blast off 30 emails in a single keystroke. A hand-written note tells the person you cared enough about your conversation to take 2 minutes to reconnect with them. In your note, recall something from your talk and if it was a warm lead, tell them you’ll be calling in 1-2 days to set-up an appointment or to go for coffee. Obviously if it was a hot lead, pick up the phone immediately when you get back to the office. I also try to find my contacts on Linked In which keeps us connected in the social media arena, too.
Tingalls Graphic Design has grown solely from networking and word-of-mouth referrals. There are many, many events free networking events in and around Madison. If you need help deciding where to go, give me a shout! I’m in plenty of organizations and would love to bring you as my guest.
Until then … happy networking!