For the first nine years of my business, I like to say that I was working behind the scenes. I don’t mean that in a way that I was doing all the work and people were taking credit for it. I mean that I was running my business solely from home and, unless you knew me personally or you were one of my clients, you wouldn’t know of me – I was invisible.
I started my business on maternity leave in 2006 and became a single mom in 2009, and as such, I ran my business solely from home with no desire, time or energy to network. A few months before my son finished kindergarten, a gentleman called me. He had seen my business card on a billboard somewhere. He told me about a networking group that had started close to my home. The group was meeting at 11:30 am on Wednesdays, which was perfect for me. As a single mom, I am not available for networking in the early morning, as meetings start around the time my kids wake up to go to school.
I remember my first meeting there – it’s kind of like walking into your first twelve-step meeting… I have to introduce myself and give my elevator pitch, I’m shaking, I have no clue what I am saying and I’m desperate. Despite this, I joined the group that same day. I knew instinctively that I had to keep in touch with the people who gave me their business cards, but I was going about keeping in touch the wrong way. I follow up with an email saying, “It was really nice to meet you today, if you need translation or proofreading, I charge such and such.” It was all about me.
With time and help from coaches and mentors, I have learned that it’s about them, not about me. What I have also come to believe is that networking is about marketing and developing relationships, not about selling.
I have since joined three other networking groups for women only and I participate in other networking events and online groups. Here are a few things I learned:
The basics: It all begins with setting an intention. I always set the intention of connecting with at least one person. Then it’s a firm handshake, looking the other person in the eyes, remembering their name (it helps to repeat it 2-3 times during the conversation). As I said before, it’s not about selling. If I feel the person I meet is trying to sell me something, I have a hard time connecting.
Elevator Pitch: Keep in simple … and short. In most of the groups I visit, we have about 30 seconds to make an impression. The “what you do and who you do it for” works in some instances, but I suggest you get a bit more creative. Ask a question that gets people to raise their hand, for example, “Do you know anyone who wants their home to be more organized?” Or a catchy phrase which states the problem you address and the solution you provide. People don’t want to know how many degrees you have, how long you’ve been in business or the price of your products or services. They want to know that you have a solution to their problem.
The fortune is in the follow-up: I can’t say enough about this. I follow up on everyone. If a business card makes it to my hand and my wallet, it deserves a follow up email! Period! Within the first 24 hours of the networking event, I write a short email saying that it was nice to meet them and I add something more personal such as an invitation to another networking event, a useful link or a comment about what we discussed when we met or something we have in common. I’m one of the few people I know who does this systematically. I’ve attended over 100 networking events in the last year and I’ve given my business card to at least 500 people. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who have followed up on me with an email or a phone call after a networking event.
From experience, I can say that, if you’re not following up, you’re leaving a lot of money (read thousands of dollars) on the table. I can also say that networking, online and in person, is a must for business development and bringing your numbers to a whole new level.