Networking is key for anyone in the sales industry and that includes anyone trying to be successful at self employment. Even if you are not selling a good per say, you are selling yourself and your services. When most of us think of networking, we think of networking groups where everyone has a common interest in business. But networking can be as simple as talking to your next door neighbor. Here are some networking methods from the obvious to the not so common.
Similar Interest Groups
Of course the obvious in person business networking groups are an option to get your name out there, especially in your local community. Aside from your Chamber of Commerce, search Craigslist and other posting sites for lead groups that might meet at local area restaurants for breakfast and to exchange potential lead information. These groups consist of sales people from a wide range of areas that compare business cards of their leads and share with other sales people in a non competing industry. While these meetings are a great opportunity to network with others and to promote your name and business, the main focus of others in the group is to do the same thing. Leads generated from this type of meeting are usually prospects that will require you to cold call.
If your area does not have a local lead group, consider starting one yourself. It is easy enough to post an invite on Craigslist and have potential members contact you so you may screen them. You want to make sure you only have one person from each industry so there is not competition, but cooperation. Meet at local restaurants or coffee shops for breakfast. It is also wise to contact the local restaurant ahead of time to let them know how many may be attending a meeting, at what time, and to see if they are interested in having you host the meeting at their location. If a shop is already busy at that time they may not want you to conduct your meeting there. However, most businesses will be thankful for the opportunity to increase their breakfast sales and to reach new customers. Remember the restaurant owner or manager should be viewed as one of your contacts and not as a service provider.
On Line Social Networks
I do recommend joining forums and social networks pertaining to your area of expertise, but I do not recommend using the internet as your sole means of networking. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in face to face contact. Of course you will need to utilize internet networking to reach clients not in your local area. I know the internet is filled with sites telling you how to use Facebook for business, but on a personal note I unfriend contacts on my Facebook that are constantly spamming me with solicitations. I joined Facebook to connect with friends, not to promote my business and your old high school chums probably feel the same way. A more appropriate venue to solicit your services would be LinkedIn. This network is developed for business contacts and not social. You choose your business categories and then you can join in groups, follow blogs or join forums pertaining to your areas of interest.
Have you ever been at a store or an event and starting talking to the person next to you only to find out they know someone you do, or their kids go to school with your kids? I call it the small world syndrome and it happens all the time. Well, why not use these times to network? That parent from your child’s ball team might just need your services or know someone who does. This is the easiest type of networking. Just strike up a conversation with people and inevitably the topic of “what do you do for a living” will come up. That is your chance to sell yourself. The trick is to not sound like you are selling yourself. Say something like, “I work from home providing sales support solutions.” More times than not the person will ask you to elaborate. Just keep the talk light and casual. You don’t want to be the cheesy used car salesman pressuring everyone for leads. As time goes on, you will develop a closer relationship with the person and then you can get more in depth about what you do. Next time you see the person ask them how work is going. They will usually answer and then ask about how your job is going. You just created an opportunity to plug your business. And the best part is, you don’t sound like you are selling yourself.
The important thing to remember when networking is you are asking someone to basically trust you and put their name on your work. Your reputation is crucial. Not just your business reputation, but your personal one as well. If you are the parent at the function that is gossiping or talking bad about others, it is doubtful anyone would refer you to a potential client. They are more likely to steer clear of you. You should always strive to handle yourself in a professional manner even when you are at social events. When you are in business for yourself, you are NEVER off the clock.