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Creating a Winning Networking Strategy

Three ways to establish a plan to help determine who you want to connect with and where to find them.

Ivan Misner

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As a time-strapped SME owner or start-up, determining which networking events to attend and which to skip can be tricky. It’s all about the return on investment. How will your business benefit by you attending, versus the time and resources it takes to be there?

This is when having a networking strategy will come in handy. From identifying who you want to connect with to knowing where to find them, here are three essential questions you should answer in order to create a networking plan that will work for you.

1. Who are my best prospects?
You’d be surprised at the number of business professionals who can’t define their best prospects. Most of them say that everyone is a potential prospect, or they offer some vague description without any specifics. This is why business professionals so often find themselves trying to attend every networking event. The usual result is that they don’t get as much business from their networking efforts as they’d like to.
A strategy will help eliminate this problem.

If you’re not sure who the right contacts are for your business, look at your past client list. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with or have you worked mostly with consumers? Once you’ve put together a profile of the people you’ve worked with in the past, run it by a few trusted friends and colleagues. People who are close to you often have insights into patterns that you tend to overlook because you’re busy with day-to-day operations.

2. Where can I meet them?
If you’re trying to meet more small business owners, you’ll generally want to spend time at the chamber of commerce, your local business association or with a referral. These groups have the type of audience you want to meet, and a system that helps you help others to get more referrals for you. But while attending business association events is usually a good starting point, there are other opportunities that fall outside typical networking events that will benefit your business as it evolves.

If you’re looking to meet representatives from bigger corporations in your area, try service clubs, non-profit groups and volunteer work. Another option is homeowners’ association meetings. If you’re a real estate agent who wants to meet first-time homebuyers and people interested in moving downtown, you’ll probably find more prospects by networking at downtown events. Look also for networking events likely to be attended by young professionals, since they are likely to be accumulating disposable income to buy a downtown condo or home.

3. Who do I want to meet?
The greater the number of networks you’re connected with, the greater the chance that there’s a short chain of contacts between you and anyone you’d care to name. All you have to do is recognise that fact and ask a few people a specific question or two. The answers will either put you in direct contact or lead you in the direction of the networking events you need to attend.
Finally, remember that it’s important to surround yourself with quality business contacts. The best way to your ideal contact very often is through another contact.

Called the "Father of Modern Networking" by CNN, Dr Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the founder and chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organisation.

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Networking

It’s The Small Things: How To Make A Good Impression On Clients

Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.

Amy Galbraith

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Impressing clients who visit your office can be quite tricky. You will not want to come off as a business that is trying too hard but at the same time being too casual can be detrimental. And clients also notice small things, such as being greeted by name and offered a beverage while they are waiting for their meeting to start (like a freshly made cappuccino with just the right amount of foam).

To put your best foot forward with your clients, you will need to put in more effort than you are currently. You should invest in coffee machines for your employees and clients, and your office foyer should always be neat, clean and tidy. Your receptionist should know exactly who will be coming in on any given day. Want to make your clients feel special? Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.

Offer them a hot cuppa (or a well-made coffee)

Offering your clients a perfectly made cup of coffee, tea or other funky coffee ideas is one of the most effective ways to make a good impression. You are showing them that you are thinking about them and care about their needs. Offering a cup of coffee also makes a person feel relaxed and at ease in a meeting.

You will find that clients are more at ease when their needs have been taken care of. Imagine a situation like this. Your client has just driven to your office through busy traffic to arrive at your office on time for a meeting. When they walk through your door, they are greeted by name and offered their choice of coffee, tea, water or another drink. They will feel welcomed and appreciated and will keep doing business with you.

Consider decor carefully

An important part of any good impression on a client is the appearance of your office. If you have decor that could be seen as offensive or that is too bright then your client might not feel comfortable in your office. It is also important to decorate according to your brand and industry to keep your office relevant for clients and employees alike.

Art that is distracting could be detrimental to business meetings, so be sure to keep your boardroom well decorated. For example, you could cover your walls in a fun wallpaper which reflects your brand or paint a feature wall and display certificates and achievements. Your decor should showcase your professionalism as well as your brand personality, but err on the side of caution with bright colours and “quirky” art.

Give them a warm welcome

You should aim to welcome your clients warmly and uniquely. For example, you could have a board up in the lobby welcoming them by name and company. Or you could have a comfortable seating area with a fun questionnaire about a simple topic, such as “How much do you love coffee?” or “How well do you know our company?”

These tactics will take minutes to complete but will garner an impressive result. If a client feels welcomed, they are likely to want to continue doing business with you.You shouldn’t overdo your efforts but you should put some thought behind your welcoming endeavours. Tell your receptionist who will be arriving on any given day and ask them to greet clients by name as they arrive for a little something extra.

Keep it clean

Your office should always be kept neat, clean, and tidy. And this goes for the kitchen too. If you have a coffee machine and accoutrements, it is important to keep these clean and shiny after every use. This will make a fantastic first impression on your client, as will an office that is kept neat and tidy.

Be sure to ask your staff to avoid leaving overflowing bins near their desks and to take all crockery and cutlery into the kitchen to be washed after lunch times. This should not only be done when a client is coming in but every day to maintain your office’s aesthetic and keep your staff happy in a healthy environment. Hire a professional cleaner to ensure that everything is cleaned and no spaces are forgotten about.

First impressions are long lasting

Making a good first impression on a client is vital to maintaining your relationship with them. Start by offering them the perfectly brewed cup of coffee or tea, and be sure that you get their order right. Ensure that your decor is carefully considered and that it reflects your brand and message correctly. Welcome your clients as warmly and as openly as possible and remember to keep your office neat, clean and tidy. This will show your clients that, not only do you care about them, but you take your work and office seriously.

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Networking

Why Coffee Is The Key To Career Networking

Read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.

Amy Galbraith

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Coffee has become the fuel of choice for many of us. It helps to perk up our minds and bodies and can help immensely with improving productivity and stamina. But coffee can do more than simply fuel a machine – it can be used for helping to ease conversation when networking. Networking is a vital part of building your career in your industry, and can be useful for when you are looking for a new position in a different company. It can also help to build your skill set and ensure that it is up-to-date with industry trends.

Meeting people over a cup of Nescafé Alegria coffee is a great way to network. A coffee date or meeting is usually a lot less stressful and can be an effective way to understand the person you are meeting. And coffee culture is booming, meaning there are plenty of places to meet up. You might find that the meeting is a successful one, which can cement a relationship with someone who you admire and aspire to be more like. So, read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.

It can eliminate pressure

Meeting someone for a coffee is more casual than meeting them in the office or at a conference. And while face-to-face networking can put pressure on even the most bubbly of people, a coffee date at a relaxed cafe will allow you to feel less stressed and pressured and can encourage you to be yourself when meeting with a mentor or potential employee.

Coffee is a fantastic bonding tool, allowing people to discover more about one another based on what drink they choose. For example, a cappuccino might show that you are an easy-going and uncomplicated person, whereas a fancy drink (caramel macchiato with a double shot of espresso, anyone?) might show that you are creative but a little highly strung. Take this opportunity to have a relaxed conversation with someone who you admire in your industry.

It does not take too long

There is nothing worse than having a “short meeting” with someone and it ends up running late. But with a coffee date, even if it is a cup of coffee in an office, this is likely not to happen. A well-made cup of coffee does not take too long to make, which means that your networking meeting or chat will not go over the suggested time of 45 minutes.

A coffee meeting should not be seen as an interview, but rather as a chat between colleagues or acquaintances. This should never run too long, as the person who you have invited for the coffee might become bored with the meeting and not pay attention to your queries or suggestions. Half an hour is the perfect amount of time to spend sipping on a delicious cup of coffee and chatting about your respective experience, careers and companies.

It can help to spark conversation

Having a chat over a cup of coffee in the office is commonplace. But it is not only used to help boost your energy levels, it can help to spark interesting can creative conversation. The same can be said of coffee and networking. This humble roasted bean can help to encourage you to speak to people who you admire and want to get to know.

At a networking event or even in the office where you are new, bonding over coffee can encourage conversation and camaraderie. If you are having a “coffee date” interview, be sure to research the person you are meeting to find out more about them and use this information in the conversation. A freshly-made cup of Nescafé Alegria will help to boost your confidence and can help you to carry the conversation, asking questions which lead to a new venture.

You will feel more comfortable

While meeting someone important in your industry should not be taken lightly, networking over a cup of coffee can help you to feel more comfortable than a formal meeting would. This is because you will be able to unwind with a coffee and chat naturally, without the stress of being in a stiff and uncomfortable setting.

Coffee is a drink that many people associate with high energy, but for others, it can allow them to unwind and feel more confident. This makes a coffee date the perfect way to connect with someone and have a successful meeting. You will feel more comfortable and will be able to hold a conversation, allowing you to get your point across without fumbling or feeling nervous. And there is also the added benefit of being able to drink some tasty coffee at the same time.

Wake up and smell the coffee

Career networking in the workplace can also help immensely in improving your position and standing in your office. You will find that meeting over a cup of coffee is one of the best ways to network. It allows you to feel less pressure and be comfortable with whoever you are meeting, no matter their level of experience. The meeting will not take too long and coffee is the perfect conversation starter.

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Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.

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It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.

If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:

Build your own network of people

When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.

In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

You are your own superhero

For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.

If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.

Always be strategic about your approach

The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.

Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.

Network both online and offline

If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Provide more than you take

Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.

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