The Art of NetworkingBy: Alvin Apple
Before there were computers and the Internet, before television and radio, before phones and electricity, business people still had to find ways to promote their businesses. The archaic promotional technique they used is still in practice today. The technique I speak of is networking; probably the oldest, most accepted, and least expensive means of promoting yourself or your business.
But why worry about networking, when modern technology allows us to do all our marketing and promotions without ever speaking to another human being? Because real human interaction is usually a better gauge of how well you are presenting your message, than a marketing survey.
Networking not only helps you stay informed of how individuals feel about what you do, but also allows you to position yourself in the marketplace and stay on the cutting edge. With networking, you spin a web of tangible relationships and powerful alliances.
However, before you start shmoozing with the best of them, you need to learn how to approach people. You can't just walk up to a stranger in the food court line and start jabbering about your business. There is an art to networking that starts with learning how to approach people.
Notice what books, magazines, and newspapers people carry. Say you own an interior design company and you see someone reading a magazine like "Better Homes and Gardens." Maybe you've read an article in that magazine that you can discuss with this person.
Comment on the article or headline and try to get a conversation going. Be sure to ask the person what they do to discern whether this is a business contact or a potential customer.
Be careful about appearing to be an opportunist. Express genuine interest in what your contact's opinions are, and listen closely to what they say to find your "in point."
Remember, not everyone will be receptive to your efforts. If you limit your networking to approaching random people on the street, then chances are you will be rejected more often.
Networking at conferences, workshops, and organization meetings like the Chamber of Commerce are bound to elicit more results. But never ignore a chance to simply get out on the street and talk to regular people. You never know; you might gain your best customer while waiting for the bus.
© 2002, Alvin Apple
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