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Networking is one of the essential promotional tools available to all business owners. I like the definition of networking used by BNI; “The process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.”

The key to networking is to establish relationships. Cultivating and building informal relationships to share information will ultimately benefit you and your business. Networking allows you to build visibility for yourself and your business, plus gain access to information, potential customers and referrals. At networking events, talk about your product or service, but don’t try to make the sale. Networking should be used to share information. Your follow-up should land the sale.

Online social networks have made networking more convenient, but nothing can replace the traditional methods of face to face contact to build relationships.

Don’t worry if you’re not the most talkative person in the world, particularly around new people. Prepare your own “elevator speech”, a 20 to 30 second description about yourself and what you do. Focus on how you help customers solve problems or improve their lives and businesses. You may want to prepare different elevator speeches for different audiences; one for people who know little or nothing about your industry, another for other entrepreneurs and another for potential customers

Before you attend a networking event do some prep work. Make certain you have plenty of business cards. Wear a name badge that tells who you are and your company name. Set a goal for the event. What does your business need? Is there a person or professional or type of business with whom you want to build a relationship? Always remember that networking is a two-way street, one that requires give and take. Be ready to listen and ask questions. Maybe give advice, support or encouragement. You’ll get that and much more in return. Don’t just hang out with your friends, mingle, meet folks you haven’t talked with before. Take notes on the business cards you receive so you remember what was discussed. Always follow up with the folks you meet.

There are many opportunities in most areas to network. There are fChambers of Commerce that offer a breakfast, lunch and afterhours networking events, as well as many other special events perfect for networking. Visit them online and visit their events, they are business people just like you and want to share information. Also, Service organizations like the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and others, Professional organizations like CDBIA, Board of Realtors, etc., Business Women’s organizations, ABWA or the BPW all have networking events. The SCORE Lunch and Learn workshops have a lot of networking before and after the presentation. Search for these organizations, find their events, prepare and go.

Get out of your office, whether it’s the back bedroom, the dining room, garage or a leased office space, and meet other business people. Listen, ask questions and add what you can to the conversation.

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