Social networking on the Web is all the rage these days, and rightfully so, but there’s another kind of networking that can help you gain customers and generate sales: face-to-face networking.
It’s the tried-and-true way of networking, which involves shaking hands and talking to someone who’s standing right in front of you, and it has been used for thousands of years with great success.
I recently went to two business networking meetings in my town, run by separate organizations, and the experience was positive both times. One involved a breakfast meeting at a local country club, and the other was a luncheon at a restaurant. At both events there were more than three dozen local businesspeople in attendance. I met people from all walks of life, and the one thing they had in common was that they believed in the concept of networking to generate more business.
Here’s how it works. You go to the meeting and spend some time mingling informally with the members, chatting and establishing who you are and what you do, then the meeting starts. After some initial announcements, the meeting begins with people standing up one at a time and giving a short “commercial” for themselves, which involves a brief introduction and a “sales pitch” for some product or service they are featuring that day. While they’re speaking, other members pass around referrals or sales leads they’ve written on pieces of paper. The sales leads go to the person in the group who handles that type of work. For example, if someone has a neighbor who wants to get their kitchen remodeled, they write down that lead and pass it to the kitchen remodeler in the group.
One hard and fast rule about these groups is that they won’t take as members two people who are direct competitors with each other. Thus, you can’t have two plumbers, two florists, two bankers, or two tax accountants. Because of this “no compete” rule everyone is guaranteed that if a referral involves their particular product or service, they’ll get first chance at it.
The groups that I visited routinely distribute up to 60 referrals at each meeting, and I saw one person come away with ten all by herself. A local construction company owner told me he gets 30 percent of his business each year from his networking group.
Who goes to these meetings? Just about everyone. I met a graphic designer, an owner of a medium-sized printing company, a car salesman, a banker, a lawyer, a masseuse, a landscape artist, a handyman, a plumber, a business coach, a gift shop owner, and a painter, just to name a few. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better at public speaking than others, but they all benefit from the power of networking.
It’s worth checking out, if you live in an area where there is a local chapter of a networking organization. Look it up in your phone book, or do a search on the Web, and then visit a meeting. You can usually visit these meetings at least once for free, so you can decide for yourself if you want to join. The two organizations in my area are called LeTip, and BNI International. They both have Web sites, so you can search them to see if there are chapters near where you live. I urge you to check out these types of organizations, because they can be very valuable in generating business leads, and everybody needs that in these turbulent economic times. There are membership fees and dues for these organizations, but if you get one or two referrals you’ll easily make back the cost of your membership.
Go ahead, do it. Get off your chair and away from that computer screen, and go out and meet some local businesspeople. You don’t have to be a polished speaker or a sales superstar to find success in these groups — these are ordinary people who simply want to help each other find more business, and if you’re sincere and hardworking you’ll find the group will accept you easily.
It’s networking the old-fashioned way, and it works. It’s worked for thousands of years, since the first humans got together to give each other tips about the best places to find food and water, and it still has power even in this age of online networking.