I love to attend networking events. I love to get to know new people, find out about businesses I didn’t know existed, and reconnect with people I haven’t seen for a while. The bigger the event, the better for me.
But there is one thing I absolutely HATE about networking events! It’s when I give someone my business card, and without even looking at it, they put it in their pocket, and keep talking. I believe, like many Asian cultures, that if I give you my business card, I’d like you to look at it, see if there’s anything you see that’s interesting to you, remark on it if you find something interesting, and then place it in your pocket.
Doing that would be bad enough, but that ISN’T what I hate the most about networking events. What I hate is after the event, many small business owners sign me up for their email marketing list, just because they now have my email address.
Just because you have my email address does NOT mean I want to be on your email marketing list!
If your email newsletter didn’t suck because it’s full of “specials” and “coupons” but no real information, it probably wouldn’t be so bad that you signed me up without my permission. Then again, if your newsletter didn’t suck, you would know better than to just sign me up for your email marketing list. You’d probably also know that signing me up to your small business email newsletter without my permission means you’re in violation of CAN-SPAM. This means each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.
Let’s do the math: If you signed all 63 people you met for your email newsletter and they all reported you as a spammer, you’d risk a fine of just $1,008,000, just to make sure we all got your email newsletter. Do you really think after 1 meeting ANYONE will buy anything from you as a result of your email newsletter?
Here’s a better way to make your small business networking more effective. It has NOTHING to do with making your email newsletter suck less. I’ll write that soon.
Don’t try to meet 63 people at the networking event. You can’t possibly remember all 63 people anyway. Instead, research the event ahead of time to identify the 10 people who are attending that you REALLY want to meet, and learn a few things about them before you get to the event. See who you know that will be attending the event that knows the people you want to meet. Find those people at the event, spend some time reconnecting with them, then ask for an introduction to 1 of the 10 people you want to meet because of something you learned by researching about them before you arrived.
Give each of those 10 people your full attention. If you are fortunate enough to get an introduction to one of the people you want to meet, give that person your full attention. Ask questions about what you researched, focusing on things you have in common unrelated to business. Learn all you can about them. Most people will return the favor and ask some questions about your interests. Avoid talking about business if at all possible, or stay away from anything in depth about your business. After 10 or so minutes, gently ask for their business card and let them know you’d like to follow up tomorrow for a 30 minute coffee meeting, your treat where you can learn more about their business, and state you know they have other people they need to meet at this event. If they ask, offer your card in return. Then thank them for their time, and either walk away (if there is someone right there that wants to talk to them, or other people in the group), or introduce them to someone you know who also has things in common.
After you walk away, write down a few things you learned on the back of their business card, or in a pocket notebook you brought along.
Repeat until you’re out of people to connect with, or the networking event ends.
Personally email each person you met at the networking – Follow up is where most networkers (myself sometimes included) fall down. Make time that night or the very next day and send a personal two paragraph e-mail to each person you connected with. Paragraph 1 should include something you enjoyed about the other person. Paragraph 2 should be asking them for that coffee date, and offer 2 mornings and 2 afternoons that work for you in the next 2 weeks. Make sure to include your email signature in case a curious person wants to learn a little more about you.
Attend the coffee meeting with a notebook and pen and some questions about their business – Show up early to make sure you get a spot both of you can sit at, and be prepared to ask some good questions about their business and their role in it, some things you CAN’T find out on their website. Ask if you may take notes (it makes some people nervous, that’s why you ask first) and write down key points. This is NOT meant to be a grilling session, so if you bring out your order pad, you are going to scare this person away. Find out what their biggest goal is for this year and think about how you might be able to help them achieve it. Pleasure is WAY more fun than pain if you ask me.
Share something relevant about your business – if the other person is interested – Gauge the other person’s interest and if they are interested in your business, share some about it. Do NOT vomit everything you know about the business. Instead, focus on what you do that fits into their biggest goal. Ask if there are any questions – and SHUT UP.
Respect the other person’s time – At the 25 minute mark (set your phone to vibrate), let the other person know you respect their time and that you’re nearing the 30 minute mark. Ask if there is any way you can help them right now, and stand up. If the conversation went well and you can help them with their biggest problem, ask for another time to meet, in their business if possible. Make this appointment for 90 minutes in 14 days or less. I find that 14 days is just enough time to not be annoying but still enough to stay relevant in their mind.
Follow-up with a handwritten thank you note – and attend the next appointment ready to pay MORE attention and offer what you have if it fits.
So you didn’t add another subscriber to your small business email newsletter. At best, you gained a qualified lead or referral source. At worst, you gained a new friend.