By Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC
I often facilitate a workshop entitled “Ideas for Prizes.” It is one of my favorite sessions because it always encourages travel professionals to share openly with their peers; things they do or have done that have helped to build their respective businesses. It never fails that at least one or more in each audience will share that they have had terrific success attending local BNE’s in the backyard.
According to Wikipedia, business networking is a social economic activity by which groups of like-minded business people recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities. A business network is a type of social network whose reason for existing is business activity. There are several prominent business networking organizations that create models of networking activity that, when followed, allow the businessperson to build new business relationships and generate business opportunities at the same time.
The definition above might be a bit over-kill, but you get the jest of it. These types of meetings can take several forms be they in-person and many are even setting up online meetings that are sometimes referred to as meet-ups. For the purposes of this article though, let’s talk about the in-person, shaking hands, eye-to-eye contact meeting.
You may be reading this and saying to yourself, yes, these do work for me! On the other hand you might be saying to yourself, No thanks, I am not that comfortable with a group of strangers, especially if I might have to talk in front of ALL of them! There is no right or wrong answer here, it is simply one of many ways to help you get the word out in your local market about what you do and why they should be coming to you to plan their travel experiences. Let’s face it, more business is a very good thing and referrals are the best money can buy.
Learning to socially mingle with other business professionals in your local market and mastering the art of follow-up is vital to your business success. Following are some strategies to consider when you head out to your BNE.
Before the Event
Some events will take the form of business breakfast or lunch meetings and or cocktail receptions. In the case of the cocktail reception, always eat first. While they may have finger food to munch on, trying to juggle refreshment and a plate of appetizers while trying to shake someone’s hand or offer them a business card is next to impossible. Remember the reason you are there and focus. Come prepared to network by bringing plenty of business cards, a pen, a small notebook or your smart phone.
Focus on the Goals
Is your purpose for attending the event to meet certain people, find new customers, nurture existing relationships, or just get the word out about who you are and what you do? Pick a number be it 5, 10, 15, 20 or whatever is realistic reach-out for the event. Take that many business cards with you at a minimum. Promise yourself that you will give out at least that number you decide upon and you won’t let yourself leave till you have done so.
Know the Dress Code
Find out in advance of the event about the dress code. You can either ask someone else you know attends it regularly or perhaps ask the event host. If it is Business Formal, wear your suit. If it is Business Casual, be certain you do not dress too far down. My very wise Mother always told me “You can never be overdressed”. While it is tempting to opt to dress more casually when I know other’s in attendance will do so, her voice is always in my head and I have to say, in all my years in the business world, I have never once been able to say she was wrong about that.
Be an Early bird
Get to the event early while it is still small and manageable. Always enter the room with a smile on your face and confidence in your step. Be approachable, enthusiastic and friendly. If this is challenging at first, do not worry as it gets easier every time. When you begin to see how your energy and enthusiasm makes people naturally gravitate to you, the task will become second nature. Push yourself to mingle and do not isolate yourself. Keep remembering your end-goal and work the room. Try to spend no more than 5-6 minutes talking with any one person, unless of course that person is asking you to come up with a suggestion for them for a round the world cruise for their family of 10! Reach out to people standing by themselves and make an effort to introduce people to each other.
When you meet a person, shake hands, and repeat their name. This not only helps you remember it, but it shows that you’re making an effort to hear the name properly.
Wear a name tag that is easy to read and is descriptive of you. Wear it on your right shoulder so that people can easily see it when they shake your hand.
Create, practice and use a description of yourself and your work that can be said in 30 seconds or less. This is typically known as an Elevator Speech and there are some articles at www.homebasedtravelagent.com that can give you tips on how to create and use your pitch effectively.
Be a good listener and less of a talker. Listen more than you talk. Remember that there is nothing more flattering than someone who listens carefully and shows sincere interest in other people. Ask questions and listen to the responses so that you begin to understand the person. This also helps you to identify who might be a potential client for your own products and services. Take notes to help you remember what people have said. When you get back to the office, put all this information into your CRM (Contact Management Software).
Well you did it and now what is your next step? If you took someone’s business card and promised to follow up with him or her, do it right away or at least within a 24-hour period. If you felt a strong connection with someone and feel a phone call is not going to seem too forward, pick up the phone. It is likely that everyone is going to use email to follow up, so why not try the old-school approach? Make sure you schedule the time on our calendar to accomplish these follow up’s and don’t let this get put on the back burner.
Business networking events are an effective low-cost marketing method. When you look upon networking events and business functions as an opportunity to meet new people, do some market research, and find potential clients, it can become a joy instead of a chore. Going in with a game plan makes you feel like you can really make the most of the event. Why not give it a try?