There comes a time in every small business person’s life when common networking practices like handing out business cards, attending various meetings and schmoozing with potential clients only goes so far. Eventually, the same old techniques get overused to the point that they become insufficient.
But how many times have you gained new business, created a great relationship or watched your website hits skyrocket because you did something unusual? Or uncommon? Perhaps even unexpected? Maybe you were on the right track.
The following is a list of atypical networking techniques that will help boost business. WARNING: They will stretch your courage. They will test your expertise. And they will challenge your creativity. But when business cards aren’t enough, alternative ways to develop and maintain mutually valuable relationships are your ticket to networking success.
What’s Your Story?
How did you get your start in business? Did you ‘fall’ into your line of work? Perhaps there was an interesting anecdote, epiphany or event that caused the birth of your business. If so, this is called ‘Your Story.’ Now, it’s not your Elevator Speech or your 30 Second Commercial. It’s your story. And it’s a fundamental tool for helping people and potential customers get to know you.
Here’s the key: write it out. Practice saying it aloud. Make it funny. And tell it to everybody. Not only does this create a memorable presence, but the more you share it with people, the more they will share Your Story with other people. Why? Because people don’t remember things, they remember stories. And after a while, the word about Your Story will spread.
Mix the Medium and Wow People
When I receive an email from an organization or business who has a question, wants to work together or just wants to chat, I do something called Mix the Medium. Here’s how it works:
1) The exact moment I finish reading the email, I obtain the person’s phone number (if I don’t already have it.) If there’s no email signature, I look at their email address or go to their website. If all I know is their company, I call Directory Assistance or look them up on City Search. Basically, I do anything I can to get their phone number within the next two minutes.
2) Then I call them right back.
3) I then say, “Hi, this is Scott Ginsberg. I was in the office when your email came through and I thought I’d call you back!” I say with a big smile on my face.
PEOPLE LOVE THIS. I have never done this without completely blowing the caller away. They respond with such excited phrases as “Wow, that was fast!” or “I’m impressed you called back already!” In fact, I recently received an email from a friend of mine who just changed jobs. He was writing to say hello and wish me a Happy New Year. And since I hadn’t heard from Jake in quite a while, I Mixed the Medium and called him right back. Five minutes later he booked me to do one of my speaking programs for his new organization!
Network en Masse
Speaking of speaking, here’s another untapped networking resource: local groups, organizations and associations. But I’m not talking about joining; I’m talking about giving a speech. It’s what I call ‘Networking en Masse.’
Small businesspeople are successful because they’re experts on something. So whether you’re in sales, printing, tech consulting or retail, find a way to transform your expertise into an informative, concise and entertaining speech that will help other people like yourself boost business.
Contact the meeting coordinator of your local Chamber, Rotary Club, Networking Group or Trade Association. They always need speakers. Offer the group a free 15-20 minute program. Include valuable tips, stories, illustrations and examples from your own business experiences that are of interest to the members. By speaking, you position yourself as an expert, validate your credibility and increase your company’s visibility.
Write as an Expert
Another underused networking tactic is writing articles or tip sheets about hot topics in your industry. You don’t even have to be a freelance writer or a journalist – just a business professional who can effectively convey his or her expertise in the form of a short article. Similar to speaking, writing articles in a publication read by your target market is the perfect way to position you and your company.
Here’s how to get started with this tip: Go to Google, type in your topic of expertise and the word ‘article.’ For example, if you work in phone book advertising, type in ‘phone book advertising article.’ (Be sure to use the quotation marks.) Hundreds of hits will come up. Read through a few dozen of them. This will give you an idea of what hot topics other people in your industry are writing articles about.
Then, find out which online databases, ezines, newsletters or websites syndicated the articles you just read. By localizing these sources, you can contact the editors and inquire about article submission guidelines. (And if you get the opportunity to publish articles online, you can easily email the article link to other people who would benefit from reading your work.)
Don’t Fear the Big Shots
You’d be surprised how approachable some of the so-called ‘Big Shots’ are. Great example: At a National Speakers Association Convention in July of 2004, I had the pleasure of attending a session with Seth Godin, best selling author of Unleash the Ideavirus and Purple Cow. Now, in addition hearing him speak, I’ve also been a frequent reader of his books and articles for years. And a few months after seeing him live I thought, ‘What the heck…maybe I’ll just drop him an email.’
So it came to pass on October 8th, 2004, that I emailed Seth Godin. I told him how much I enjoyed his speech at the convention and that his work was a big influence on my own books and speeches. I also told him to check out my website, for it was an example of the kind of idea he so passionately supported.
What did I have to lose, right?
To my surprise about a half hour later, he wrote me back. ‘Thanks for the kind words, Scott! I blogged your site. Good luck.’
Little did I realize that Seth Godin publishes one of the top ten most frequently read blogs in the world. As a result, I received over 70,000 hits on my website in one day! This resulted in some great new contacts, several exciting business opportunities and the birth of my own blog, which is now a critical part of my business! Which brings me to my last networking tip.
Blog For Bucks
If you don’t already have a blog for your business – get one. A blog is an online journal on which you can post comments, links, stories and articles. This popular new medium through which to share your feelings, experiences and emotions is a free and fun way to network with other online professionals. After I talked with Seth last year, I started the blog for my business, and it’s become a valuable tool to stimulate personal dialogue with potential customers. It’s also a great way to let your customers know what’s going on in your life.
The commonality of these unusual, uncommon and unexpected networking techniques is this: you must do what nobody else is willing to do. Sure, handing out business cards and attending meetings are all good techniques. But everyone does that. So are you willing to practice telling Your Story? Would you call people right back when they’re expecting you to email them tomorrow? Do you have the courage to give a great speech, write a helpful article or start a blog that shares your expertise? And are you willing to get in contact with a Big Shot?
I hope so – because eventually, business cards just aren’t enough!
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Have you ever tried uncommon networking approaches?