As a home based agent one of the biggest hurdles I face is visibility. I have found networking a great way to get the word out on what I do and to meet potential new clients. To network effectively requires time & effort and getting out of the house. Trust me, I know it’s hard to get out of the house when the wind chill is hovering somewhere near zero. It’s easy to just stay in your warm sweats and not go anywhere. But, sitting home doesn’t give you the face to face time you need to successfully build your business.
If you have never attempted to network before-it can be intimidating. Where do you find networking groups? Meetup.com is a great resource on finding networking groups in your community. It’s free but you need to create a log in. Once you have your log in, search for “networking groups” in whatever city you live. Peruse the groups and find a couple that spark your interest. Email the President or membership chairperson and ask for more information. Be sure to ask them if you can attend their meeting. Some groups may be closed or not taking new members. Notifying the group ahead of time is also helpful because they will know you are coming and greet you when you walk in. A lot of groups such as BNI, Gold star, Am Spirit, etc. will let you attend several meetings before you join. That way you can check them out and see how they run. These groups are great because they only allow 1 category for each business in each chapter. Don’t discount smaller networking groups either. They can be just as great as the larger one. Your local Chamber is a great networking organization as well. Check your local newspaper or do a Google search for more networking groups.
When you find a meeting to attend arrive early and dress professionally. Appearances do matter. Have a good 30 second elevator speech that tells who you are and why you are unique. Practice it so it flows effortlessly off your tongue. Introduce yourself to the Members of the Group with a smile and a firm handshake. Look people in the eye and try to remember their names
If business to business groups are not your cup of tea –volunteer for a local non-profit or Charity. You not only get to help people but you get to meet some pretty great people. Again, check your local newspapers; use Google to find charitable groups in your area. There are lots of volunteer opportunities around.
Clubs are another great way to network. Sierra Club, Lion’s Club, Rotary, book clubs, wine clubs, outdoor clubs, scuba diving groups etc. Again, meetup.com is a great resource for clubs and groups in your community. But, be careful when you join a Club or a Charitable organizations—they frown on direct solicitation or selling.
Effective networking is not about how many business cards you can collect. Too often people show up at networking events expecting instant results or business. That is not how it works. It’s about building relationships and getting others to know, like and trust you. Listen to the other person, be interested in what they are saying and be genuine. When someone is talking to you—don’t be looking around the room trying to find an escape route. Give that person your undivided attention and show interest. If you are uncomfortable talking to people—Toastmasters is a great way to learn to speak in front of others. I highly recommend it. Besides learning how to communicate better you are meeting other professionals.
Once you find a networking group and join attend meetings on a regular basis. Out of sight is out of mind. Get involved in the group. Get on a committee or run for an office. Be a resource for people. Give and you shall receive. Put effort into relationships first and the business will follow.
Mary Stephan is the President of Allons Travel based in Powell, OH. For more information, you can contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.