Almost without exception, your community will provide many more opportunities for networking than you could actually attend or utilize. Most travel agents that are expert at networking activities confine themselves to a choice few venues where they feel confident of obtaining the greatest benefit both for themselves and for others. Further, not every event is an appropriate networking venue. It is important to emphasize again that networking relationships flow two directions – you get out of the process what you put into it. If you are perceived as being a “taker” and not a “giver” most relationships, both personal and professional, will diminish fairly quickly. Thus, focus your networking energies on those activities where you feel most comfortable giving of yourself to the organization or cause.
When choosing among opportunities, decide on the characteristics of demographic you want to reach. If your agency is primarily a corporate travel agency, then Chamber of Commerce functions seem highly appropriate. If, however, you are seeking family travelers, networking at social clubs, school functions and church will probably be a better tactical decision. Keep your networking goals at the forefront of your decision making process. Study the members of the organization sponsoring the networking opportunity. Also study the nature of the function. Most networking opportunities at social functions will not afford, nor even tolerate, overt networking activity. At such events your networking will be a much more relaxed study in getting to know the other people involved and letting them get to know you in something other than a business context.
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For example, one of the best ways to network is to volunteer. In most communities, volunteer opportunities abound – so you should be able to identify at least one that you relate to and are passionate about. From “Race for the Cure” to charity work or participation on committees for organizations such as your local United Way, PTA, Hospice, and more, you contribute and thereby widen your circle of acquaintances. By joining others for good causes or civic committees, you not only work toward a positive goal in your community, but you also earn the opportunity to let new people know about your travel practice, your attention to detail, and the personality behind your skill set. As the other participants get to know you in a volunteer setting, their understanding of you in a charitable context serves to create a bond that can translate in a very positive way into a personal or business relationship. Importantly, you will discover that much of the pressure is off of you to “market” as you provide your services to the community. Knowledge of you and your business is a happy by-product of your central mission of giving to others.
Join organizations in your community that have goals and interests that are compatible with your networking goals and travel business. Participation in the committees and event functions of organizations involves you more fully in their inner workings and increases your odds at accomplishing the goals you have set for your networking strategies.
Not all networking opportunities involve joining an organization or attending an event. Many of the people in your everyday life most likely fit your core client demographic. However, you know them as “hairdresser”, “plumber” or “teacher”. Your associations at school, church and the social clubs to which you belong might all be untapped networking resources if you are not fully engaged in a networking mindset. Make sure that those around you know what you do and identify you with your travel practice. Again, being overtly commercial is not necessary. Simply be truly interested in other people and it is highly likely that they will express an equal degree of interest in who you are and what you do. Smile and be approachable! You will almost certainly find yourself being approached.
Tomorrow – Networking Artfully