The reason it’s called “networking” is that there is work involved! Networking, to be successful, is more than joining organizations, attending events and meeting people. For networking to be a strong tactic in building your travel planning business, concerted planning and on-going effort are key ingredients to add to the mix. Networking without a good set of planned objectives can work, but more often will not yield the results that a stronger effort would produce.
Have a well-defined set of goals and tactics that, combined, form a networking strategy. Decide early on in your networking planning how much time you will devote to networking and even how many new clients you hope to achieve. Determine the demographic of the core clients you are seeking. Once you have pinpointed the demographic you want to meet, spend some time deciding where the best possible venue is to find and meet them.
Because networking requires the personal presence of you or your employees, it is time intensive. Consider covering more ground by expanding your networking strategy beyond yourself personally to incorporate your employees or company business associates. In some instances you and those with whom you work may be involved in the same networking opportunities or you may head off in different directions. In either event, coordinate and plan out each opportunity and establish individual goals to decide how best to measure success.
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If you can volunteer at a registration desk or on a committee, you will have an inside track on some key participants. It often helps to arrive early at networking events when the number of people is light and conversation can happen in a less competitive environment. Remember to circulate during the event. Too often, the temptation is to find a person who is comfortable to speak with and to remain attached to them the entire event. Move around and keep in mind your goal of meeting multiple possible contacts during the event.
Conversation at networking events should be planned. Remember that your goals are business goals and that you and the other networkers in the organization are representing your brand. Certain topics, such as politics for example, are typically “off the table” for such purposes. Note key talking points that you will want to introduce into your conversations. For example, you will want to make sure that the people with whom you speak know you are a travel agent, your areas of specialty and the important elements of your “story”. You will want to make sure they know how to contact you, perhaps via a business card or by whatever internal contact system the group uses. Know how you will respond when asked what you “do” – the most common of questions – make your answer memorable. Say it with a big smile and follow right up with asking your questioner the same question – always inquire for the same information from others, to give as well as take. Remember, being overtly commercial is not always appropriate, so keep the tenor of the group and the event in mind as you plan, but be friendly and genuinely interested in what others have to say as well. If you make others feel relaxed, they will respond in kind.
If you are new to the event or organization you have chosen, it often helps to have a “sponsor” – a person more familiar with the group dynamics – accompany and introduce you. Let your sponsor know something of your goals. If there are particular individuals you would like to meet, ask your sponsor for an introduction. In the absence of a sponsor, however, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself. Be nonthreatening in your demeanor, but also be direct and show enthusiasm. While you should certainly have plenty of your own business cards to provide to others, it is more important for you to collect the business cards of others so that you can take the initiative in following up with your new contacts. At formal networking events, such as Chamber of Commerce gatherings, it is perfectly acceptable to be very direct with your goals as such events are inherently designed as networking opportunities. In social situations, conversation tends to be more casual and less direct. Nevertheless, at some juncture it is almost always appropriate to ask for permission to follow up with those you meet.
Once the networking event is over, spend some time debriefing yourself and those who attended from your organization. Determine how well each individual met the networking goals of the group. Plan and calendar follow-up efforts and monitor follow-up to make sure that it is being effectively executed. Follow up is a matter of building on the relationship you began at first contact.
Tomorrow – Formal and Informal Networks