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Whether you are a techie, or a numbers fan, networking is the key to success for any small business. By growing your network, opportunities arise, business partners appear, connections are made and trust is garnered in the local community. Think about the following steps for small business models to maximize network connections and overall success.
- Get Face Time: Even with LinkedIn, Alignable, FaceBook Live and the latest social media platforms, face-to-face interaction is the key. Making a personal connection with eye contact, with an air kiss, bow, fist bump or handshake, and solid conversation is still the most powerful networking.
- Use Conversation Starters: When starting conversations in networking scenarios, the key is to build rapport. Arrive prepared with a conversation starter such as: Did you see that tweet? How do you know the host? Are you originally from here [insert city]? Where was your last vacay [vacation]? Where is your next vacay? Have you seen [insert movie title]? This weather is so _ my golden retriever __! Avoid diving directly into a professional conversation. Ease from personal banter to questions about theirbusiness.
- Remember the 80:20 Rule: When engaging in networking conversations, remember the 80:20 rule. Listen 80% of the time, ask questions 10%, and share your opinion 10%. Sound unfair? No, your counterpart will love everything they hear – themselves! Participate as an active listener.
- Open & Close Conversations: Be prepared with questions about business if they ask about your business. Good questions include: How do you know the host? What attracted you to this industry? Tell me about your logo design? Before you leave a group, close conversations with I have enjoyed visiting with you. Thanks for your time, or, maybe I’ll see you next month, have a good evening. Personalize to your comfort level.
- Be Authentic: Speak truthfully about yourself, what you want and where you plan to go. Use up-to-date professional photos on LinkedIn and social media. Responding to questions about what you want and who you are must align with your social media platforms, resume and recommendations.
- Personalize Connection Invitations: Follow up with contacts and personalize invitations. For example, “A pleasure meeting you at the AMA lunch. You mentioned volunteer opportunities; I’m reaching out to connect and possibly set a date. Does September 14, 25 or 16 work?” “Thanks for your chamber presentation. Attached is a link to my latest article. Thanks for offering to share with your colleagues.”
- Maximize Chambers of Commerce & Industry Leaders: Investigate your local chamber of commerce for opportunities to learn, grow and connect with other area businesses. Learn from industry experts. Reach out to thought leaders with lunch invitations and LinkedIn requests. Offer to write a book review and invite these leaders to speak to your industry group in return for an honorarium. A brilliant way to learn and connect with industry players.
- Ace all Homework: Before attending networking events, research the individuals, and companies attending. Be intentional with your networking goals and clear in what you are striving for in your connections.
- Be Present: Playing Pokemon Go between conversations? Reverting to your phone when feeling uneasy? Each conversation is valuable personally and professionally – use the time wisely.
- Share Substance: Follow up within two days of meeting a new contact and share something of substance. For example, link to an article of mutual interest. Keeps the focus from being purely transactional and show genuine interest. Enjoy your growing network.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015.
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