If you are in a networking group, is your networking meeting on your calendar? If so, for how many weeks/months in advance? A month? Two months? Or is it marked for the rest of the calendar year and beyond?

What can often happen when people join a networking group is that a certain complacency can set in. The meeting becomes part of your routine. While in some ways routine is good, in networking not so much. Particularly, if you are in a monthly group.

As a member of a group that meets monthly, that meeting should be more like an event. Most people don’t want to miss events. That’s why they mark events on their calendars, so they won’t miss them and won’t schedule anything at that particular time.

While it may seem like a small thing, marking your calendar with your networking meetings for several months in advance symbolically represents a commitment to that group. A commitment you’ve reinforced by putting it to paper or, in most cases, a calendar item on your handheld or computer.

Does that mean you make every meeting? Not necessarily. Life events still happen. Yet it’s probably safe to say the networker who books their networking meetings and events in their calendar well in adavnce will make it there more times than one who doesn’t. And in networking, being their is more than half the battle.

 

That’s a question we have asked at several My Pinnacle Network meetings this month. The response from one of the attendees at My Pinnacle – Plymouth caught yours truly off-guard:

“The best referral I ever gave was you,” said John Adams, of Adams Communications. “I introduced you to Steve Dubin*.”

Technically, it was more of a cold lead and one other person (Stephanie Gray) had recommended Steve as well. Still, there’s no way either John or Stephanie could have known the career/life-altering impact this referral might bring. They made the introduction because they were following the fundamentals of good networking:

1. Listen to what the other person does.
2. Think of who you know in your contact sphere who might be a good match.
3. Provide contact info and follow up.

Now, if you knew that every introduction/referral you made had the potential for a long-term working relationship and eventually a partnership, you’d go that extra mile every time you made an introduction, right? The point is you never know where a simple introduction might lead. But if you do it as a practice, as John and Stephanie did/do, good things can happen.

*Steve and I have now worked together for more than 10 years to build PR Works, a full-service public relations and advertising company. Additionally, we launched My Pinnacle Network approximately five years ago and have expanded the network to 11 locations. Yes, I’d have to say, that was a pretty good introduction.)

Think about the referrals you have passed. What was the genesis of that referral? More than likely, the referral involved your listening skills more than any other variable.

First, you probably heard a friend, colleague or peer talk about his or her business and what their needs are. If you were truly listening, that registered in your memory on a certain level.

Next, in your travels–be it at your place of business, networking group, coffee shop, etc.–you heard somebody express a need for a certain product or service. You interjected and said, “I know somebody who might be able to help you!” And that is how a lead/referral is born.

So, if you’re in a networking group and you’re wondering why you have not received a referral, perhaps you’re not asking the right question. Maybe you should be asking, why have I not passed a referral?

Clearly, there are exceptions to this rule, but when it comes to referrals you have to give to receive. And the only way you can give is to know what people want or need. That you can only do by listening.

Now, there’s probably not one of us who has paid attention to every single word every person has said at a networking meeting. We should, but we don’t. Fortunately, it’s an area where you can improve quite easily.

Make it a point to listen at your next networking meeting. Bring a notebook and be sure to write down at least one type of referral your fellow members are looking for as each gives his or her elevator pitch. You would be surprised how much registers in your memory when you put it in writing. From there, all you really have to do is go about your life and business and just listen–the opportunities are out there.

Last week’s topic discussing the correlation between gratitude in elevator pitches and success in networking groups struck a real chord with readers. This week’s topic is essentially the opposite of gratitude: resentment. And it can be a death sentence to not only leads, but it can cast a cloud over an entire networking group.

If you have been in a networking group for any length of time and done your share of one-on-ones, you may have heard grumblings from fellow members about certain members not passing them business. These grumblings were probably louder if your fellow member had passed leads to the member they are complaining about. If you are in a situation where somebody is bashing a fellow member, it’s your job to get them off the “whine without the cheese”.

That’s not saying they might not have a beef. Yet complaining about somebody not passing referrals never solved the problem. If anything, it creates an animosity that casts a cloud over your group and makes others uncomfortable-and that diminishes the effectiveness of the group.

So, what do you do? Politely suggest to your fellow member to take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves a few questions:

  • Have I done a thorough one-on-one with this person (you’d be surprised how many people expect referrals without having sat down with said person)?
  • Did I present myself in a way that makes me easy to refer? Sometimes preparing a list of businesses you’re looking to be referred to and a list of how you can help them makes it much easier to pass a referral.
  • If it’s a scenario where you have passed your fellow networking group member a lead, did you take following steps:
    • Contact the lead to let them know somebody from your networking group would be reaching out to them?
    • Did you follow up with your fellow group member to see whether they connected with your referral and whether or not it was the right kind of referral?
    • Follow up with the referral.

If this exercise turns up nothing, suggest they set up another one-on-one (you can do as many of those as you need, there is no limit). This is an opportunity to be direct. An example of what to say might be:

“I was hoping we’d be good sources of leads and referrals for each other. Is there anything you can tell me about your business that might help me pass more referrals your way?”

Granted, this is not really addressing the problem. But once they answer that question, most people will reciprocate and ask how they can help you. That should lead to a discussion that will lead to an answer. Nine times out of 10, the reason one networking group member is not passing leads to another is about them and not the other member.

No matter what the reason for not passing leads, this exercise is really meant to stop the bad mouthing and resentment and get back to work on passing leads and referrals. That’s why when discussing people in your networking group with other members it’s best to follow the golden rule–if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Grumbling about what you’re not getting from other group members typically makes you look as bad as the person you’re complaining about. And the last thing you want is that frustration giving other members of your group a reason to hesitate in passing referrals to you, too.

So, you do a one-on-one with somebody from your networking group and he/she gives you a lead. Now what?

That depends largely on the information provided. As a practice, you want to try and get a phone number and an e-mail address. In fact, e-mail is often an easier ice-breaker to introduce yourself and the connection to person providing the lead.

Once you have the lead’s contact info, the follow-up process should start before you end your one-on-one meeting:

  • Confirm next steps – Will the person who gave you the lead reach out to that person? If so, by when. Offer to make the initial introduction to the lead via e-mail. Mention you met with John/Jane Doe from your networking group and they suggested we should connect. Be sure to cc John/Jane on the e-mail.
  • Let it breathe – Don’t expect an immediate response, particularly if the lead hasn’t heard from Jane/John about you. Give it two business days before taking the next step.
  • Call the lead – Again, reference John/Jane and how they thought it would be beneficial for the two of you to connect. Be sure to reference the e-mail you sent and that you are just following up. Hopefully, the discussion takes its course and you can set up a meeting.
  • Follow up with your networking member – Let Jane/John know if you connected with their lead. If more than a week goes by and you haven’t been able to connect, let them know that as well.

When somebody gives you a lead, there’s a responsibility of follow-up that falls on both of you. Otherwise, it’s a cold lead, which is just one notch above a cold call–and that goes against the grain of why we join networking groups.

Know that when you give or get a lead, it’s going to require effort on both parties to make it a warm referral and be prepared to do the follow-up to make that happen.

Advanced networking strategies

You’ve heard it said that every business has a marketing plan. Even if you don’t have a marketing plan written down, that’s a marketing plan—though probably not as effective as a thought-out and plotted strategy. The same can be said for your networking. In other words, write out a networking plan.

The vast majority of people in networking groups—some who even have the audacity to write about it in an e-newsletter—don’t have a written-out networking plan. You may think, “do I really need one?” It’s a valid point, especially if you have had some success generating leads off your networking efforts. But it’s not a bad thought if you are looking to be more efficient in your efforts and tracking.

What could that plan look like? Probably, whatever you want it to look like. As stated above, what you are doing now is a networking plan. So, start there with something like:

Networking groups:
· My Pinnacle Network – meets first Tuesday of the month

Networking events (minimum of one per month; possible candidates):
• Attend Chamber of Commerce after hours
• South Shore Networking Group
• 508 and 774 networking group

Post-Networking (to be completed within 3 days after meeting or event):
• Add new contacts to address book
• Send follow-up note to new contacts
• Thank event host
• Set up one-on-one with current member or guests of networking group

This is just one scenario. It can be different for every networker. You may want to set up tasks in Outlook with reminders to help you stick to your plan. You may want to create some sort of spreadsheet to track these efforts. It really depends on your personal preferences.

The beauty of this exercise is the focus it brings to your networking. You may think of things you want to add to your networking efforts and haven’t—adding your networking group members to your e-mail list or connecting on LinkedIn. The power of writing down a networking plan takes it from just what you do to actionable steps.

Tom Hanks and “Thank you”

If that sounds like a Jeopardy clue, it really could be. The question would be, “what gets people to open an e-newsletter?” As the art of e-newslettering has evolved, it’s placed a great importance on your subject line. It really must be like a headline for an ad or newspaper story. And while it’s not terribly creative, “thank you” generally gets the most opens. But “thank you” may have a challenger: Tom Hanks.

A recent meme we reposted on Facebook had an extraordinary response from our network and beyond. So much that we thought perhaps it could replace “thank you” as the most effective line. If you are reading this, you’re making this case.

When it comes to networking, the great Tom Hanks really can’t touch “thank you” for many reasons. First and foremost, Joe and the Volcano. But mostly because thank you is such a small gesture that means so much.

Yes, thank you is a show of gratitude and that’s also important. It’s also recognition of an effort made by somebody else. Regrettably, not as many people notice the things other people do. A thank you can go a long way towards deepening any relationship, but particularly a networking one.

Is there someone in your network that you should or could be thanking? Why not make that connection today? Sometimes those thank yous can turn into more—for no particular reason.

 

Networking isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense, common courtesy and bit of effort.

To get the most of any networking group, we suggest the following –

Show up early. Get there 15 minutes prior to start time. Show commitment and have a chance to connect with other early birds before the whirlwind of the meeting begins.

Tune in. Turn off your cell phone. Turn on your focus. Takes notes on how you can help others.

Your turn to speak – differentiate. Client stories are more memorable and compelling than a punch list of your services. Tell a recent client story that underscores what you do well.

“How you can help me” – See the “how you can help me” outline on our website. This should include key phrases to listen for, the specific niche and demographic of your best prospects, best referral sources for you, the best way to introduce you.

Be genuine. Don’t overstate your capabilities. Don’t overpromise next steps.

Be a connecter – Be the reference desk. Every connection has a ripple effect. Ripples lead to waves.

Keep your antenna up? Look for opportunities for others. Listen for “hot buttons” for your colleagues.

Recruit members to strengthen the group – Who could add more energy and introductions to the group? Who do you know that seems to be everywhere, knows everyone? Encourage them to check out the group.

One-on-One meetings – Try to meet with each member of the group to create a more personal link and to better understand their business. Prepare for this meeting. See if you can bring one introduction to the meeting. Make it a “Rolodex” meeting. Bring your smartphone, laptop or tablet with your personal database information – conversation may lead to an immediate introduction.

Follow up, follow through. Respond to introductions within 3 working days. Show a sense of urgency and sincere interest.

Keep in touch. Make sure all group members are on your E-newsletter list, Holiday list, business event/seminar list, etc.

Be a better networker TODAY

Everyone gets caught up in the craziness of work, family and other commitments. Invariably, some things fall through the cracks. For many, that’s follow-up and follow through with regard to your networking efforts. If that sounds like you, here’s one piece of advice: today is a new day and it’s not too late to follow up.

As a rule, when you meet somebody at a networking function or conduct a one-on-one, it’s good form to follow up within three days. This may sound like a bit of a formality, but it really is another level of the networking process. Since your meeting, that person may have thought of somebody who might be a lead or referral source for you. A simple follow-up after your meeting keeps you front-of-mind.

Now, if this is something you have been negligent on in the past, guess what? You can be a better networker today by simply making a phone call or dropping an e-mail to those you did not follow up with. Most people understand that everybody is busy and that some things do slide, particularly during the summer. A belated follow-up might rekindle the networking and lead to new business.

The most important thing about networking is consistency. Attend a certain number of events per month. Conduct X number of one-on-ones per month with people you meet at events or those who are part of your networking group. Then follow up with those individuals within three days. Yet perhaps as important as doing all those things is NOT beating yourself up too badly if you don’t.

It may sound rather Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, but today is another day. You can spend that day being ticked off at yourself for not doing your follow-up or setting up one-on-ones or you can send out that follow up note and apologize for not doing so sooner. Better yet, give that person a call. The fact is you can be a better networker today by forgiving yourself for what you should have done and taking action today. Simple as that.

One the more important things you can do in developing a network is conduct one-on-one meetings. After all, what better way is there to get to know somebody and learn about their business than meet face-to-face? But what happens after the meeting? How confident are you that the person you just met with has a handle on what your business is all about and who your best prospects are? One way to ensure networking success is to have at least one article you can pass on to your network that they, in turn, can use to reference your business.

You might be saying, “we haven’t received any coverage in the press that really describes our company well enough”. Even if the press hasn’t covered your business, that doesn’t prohibit you from writing an article about what it is you do.

For example, if you’re a CPA, you could write an article on “The Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Get Audited by the Government”. Or if you’re a web designer, you could write an article entitled, “The Top 10 Things to Look for in a Web Design Firm”.

You’re probably noticing a pattern with the “top 10” theme but that’s strictly to address the reason many entrepreneurs have for not having a prepared article that describes their company, “I can’t write”. Poppycock!

If writing is not your thing, that’s one thing. But you should be able to talk about the 10 best ways to work with a ___ or the 10 things you should look for in a ___. Even if you have to say it into a tape recorder first, you can communicate that. Then, it’s really a matter of finding somebody who can take that information and make it read well. And there are many resources to find freelance copywriters or firms that can do that.

Once the article is written, with your name and bio included as the byline, you’ll want to publish it somewhere to make it look official. There are hundreds of free article submission sites who are desperate for content from subject matter experts. Ezinearticles.com is one. It really then becomes a matter of submitting your article and waiting for it to be available online.

Once your article is online, you now have a tool to share with your network. You can print it out with the masthead from the publication to make it really look official. Or, you can forward the link so your network can e-mail it to potential prospects. The recommendation here is to print it out—keep it to one page if you can—and hand it to your network as you conduct one on one meetings.

One thing you’ll find about networking that it places a premium on your collateral marketing materials. How well those pieces describe what you do gives your network the ammunition to generate leads for you. So even if your company brochure or website aren’t up to snuff, a bylined article can give your network all it needs to trumpet your capabilities.

And that’s key to making your network work.