I often talk to small business owners about the importance of networking for lead generation. And often times, I am met with resistance as the business owner recalls the countless networking events he has attended, that were not enjoyable, and from which no new doors were opened.  The reason for this is his networking activities were flawed in their execution.  Follow these tips to get a better ROI from your networking efforts.

  1. Stop Working the Room. The disingenuous approach of quickly meeting people and collecting as many business cards as possible in one hour is an exercise in futility. Now what?
  2. Givers Gain. Whether you are a proponent of professional lead generation groups or not, the motto of BNI – Givers Gain – has validity. The idea is if you help others, they will in turn help you. Instead of acting as the ‘hunter’ at a networking event to find your next sale, take the time to learn about the 3-5 people you meet and thinking of who you can connect them to or what resource you could share that could be helpful to them.
  3. LinkedIn. After collecting all those cards do you take them back to your office, put a rubber band around them to ‘get to later’ or do you connect on LinkedIn? Connecting on LinkedIn is a good next step but continually adding to your LinkedIn connections without developing a relationship with these folks is ineffective.
  4. CamCard and CardMunch. Business card readers are all the rage. Apps like CamCard and CardMunch get you out of the rubber band mode by quickly reading business cards and storing them to your phone Contacts and syncing them across smartphones, tablets and computers.
  5. Coffee and Contacts. After meeting someone of interest at a networking event, scanning their business card and connecting on LinkedIn, what next? Expert networkers believe you must follow up with new connections within the 10 days after meeting them to have your networking efforts pay off. Call to arrange a brief, one-on-one coffee meeting with interesting people you met and want to know better.
  6. Stay Focused. With an abundance of networking opportunities, time management becomes an issue. Attend one to two networking events a week. If you find the event is not a good fit, don’t go back.
  7. Social Media Substitute. Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media outlets today have a place in our business building world. They are great inbound marketing tools and tools for building and maintaining relationships. But those who think they can sit at home in their pajamas relying 100% on social media to meet people and develop meaningful liaisons are fooling themselves. There is still no substitute for the old-fashioned face-to-face connections when it comes to developing powerful relationships.
  8. The Non-Prospect. Many business networkers tend to categorize people they meet into ‘prospects’ and ‘non-prospects’, recklessly discarding non-prospects. This is a mistake. The non-prospect may be the ‘gatekeeper’ to the person you do want to meet. With the explosion of social media and other technologies, six degrees of separation have become more like four degrees. The more people you really get to know the more likely you are to make that important connection that takes your company to the next level.

Written By: Sharon Macaluso, Area Director, University of Georgia SBDC in DeKalb