Be a Network Star

I spend lots of time and money going to networking events to generate business vital for my struggling company, but I’m not getting anything out of them. Is there a better use of my time?

Before you give up, look at how you’re approaching the events you attend. Networking done right can reap benefits, but just showing up and getting your name or business card out there doesn’t bring in customers. Examine your script and fine-tune it to the audience at each networking event.

At one conference I met a golf instructor who told me her business was on the rocks. She was trying to reach new customers by attending speed-networking events. But when I asked her to give me her pitch, I learned it focused on her business—on what she did—and didn’t cater to the needs of prospective clients.

Her pitch: “Hi, my name is Jan Smith, and I’m a golf instructor with more than 20 years of experience training some of the best pros in the world. I offer hourly lessons, half-day programs and a special 18-hole package. I’d love to help you develop an interest in this terrific sport. Thanks!”

Not awful, but she was pitching to women as though they were trying to find a new sport. She should have been pitching to businesswomen looking to boost their businesses.

With that in mind, here’s how I suggested she tweak her pitch: “Hi, I’m Jan Smith. Did you know that business deals worth millions of dollars are made on the golf course? If you’re not out on the green, you’ll miss your share of that money. As a seasoned golf instructor, my specialty is getting women quickly up to par. Let’s talk about how golf can grow your bottom line.”

Big difference, right? Both are short, but the first is all about her and the other is about them. Jan now alters her pitches to suit any demographic, from single women hoping to meet men (who cite golf as an interest on dating sites) to women who want to lose weight (touting how many calories you burn playing a round of golf).

A few other tips:

Look at profitability: Unless you love attending mixers, stop attending events that don’t attract your target audience.

Networking events aren’t sell-a-thons: They’re expand-a-thons designed to make new connections.

Request more business cards than you give out. Sure, pass out your card if someone requests it. When you request someone else’s card, you’re in control of the follow-up. Once home, separate the cards you’ve collected into categories, giving priority to the contacts you feel you can convert to clients. You should send these contacts follow-up emails right away—even if it’s just a short note reminding the person about something specific from your chat—and connect via social media with all good prospects. It’ll widen your net.

Go alone. When I first started attending networking events, I often went with another person. After a while I noticed I wasn’t getting anything out of them. It occurred to me I was talking about everyone instead of talking to them. So I began to go alone and followed a firm ground rule: I could not leave until I introduced myself to three attendees. Sometimes nothing came of it: We’d exchange a mediocre handshake and barely anything else. But more times than not, I’d end up with a new nugget, resource or idea that I never would have gotten had I not put myself out there. Try it. It works.

There's a lot to expanding connections and gaining customers, so "Ask SUCCESS: How Do I Build a Clientele?" for some answers.


Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.

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