Admit it. When I say “networking”, you cringe.
Because of all the aggressive “network marketers” out there, you immediately assume I’m talking about pushy MLM tactics designed to strong-arm your friends, relatives, and passing acquaintances into fattening your bottom line by joining your “downline”.
Well, that’s not what I’m talking about at all.
I’m referring to good old-fashioned networking. Networking can be as simple as talking to other parents on the sidelines at your kids’ soccer games and discovering that they need help planning their winter vacation. Or mentioning your travel business to your dental hygienist and finding out that she’s overwhelmed by planning a family reunion and would love your assistance.
If you’re new to networking, these kinds of casual, non-threatening interactions are a great first step. People are always happy to talk about vacations, and you should always be prepared with business cards and your “elevator speech” – a brief (two sentence) description of what it is that you do, and how you help your clients. It sounds silly, but you don’t want to be caught short and just say “I’m a travel agent”. That is a definite conversation killer. Since my business is called Annie’s Escapes, I say “I’m an Escape Artist. I help my clients escape from their everyday lives with really memorable vacations.” It’s fun, it makes them stop for a minute, and usually leads to a very interesting conversation.
If you keep your eyes and ears open, and are prepared with a great elevator speech, you would be amazed at how many leads can come out of casual conversations at the dry cleaners, the playground, or your cousin’s wedding.
Here are a few examples to get your ideas flowing:
- I was at a wedding last year, seated with people I did not know, and the conversation turned to travel. It turned out that one young couple was planning a honeymoon, and I ended up with their business. Over the past year, they have referred three more couples to me. And all it took was that one casual conversation over dinner!
- My hairdresser and I were talking about business, and I mentioned that I had been booking quite a few honeymoons lately. She remembered that her niece had been talking about needing some help planning hers, and she put me in touch with her. I ended up working with the couple on their honeymoon this past summer, and now we’re talking about an anniversary trip to Italy next year.
- I volunteer my time with our local chapter of Make A Wish, and serve on a planning committee for them. Since I’ve gotten to know the director pretty well, I asked her about the travel wishes that they grant, and how those arrangements are made. It turns out that one overworked staff member was handling them, and she was thrilled to have some help. I now take care of all of their travel wishes and, even though I donate back some of my commission; it’s a nice piece of business to have.
So, if you want to increase your business through networking, you just need to keep your eyes and ears open, speak up, reach out, and get creative. The clients are out there. You just need to take the first step and let them know about you!
So, what’s your elevator pitch? Care to share? Please share your networking ideas and successes by commenting below, and stay tuned for my next column on business-to-business networking.
Ann Petronio is a travel consultant and the owner of Annie’s Escapes, Inc. in Cranston, Rhode Island. She creates custom-tailored vacations for busy couples, families and groups. www.AnniesEscapes.com