Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Refusal to Network Hurts Your Business

 

This post is relevant to clients and to freelancers.

One of the things I do when I sit down with clients who want me to create marketing materials is to discuss how they network. It’s something that also comes up at meet-ups with freelancers, conferences, and other events. This helps me create the best possible marketing materials for the company. As a freelancer, networking helps me meet potential clients who need my skills; or, if I’m not the right person for their needs, I can usually refer another freelancer I know.

I’m always astonished when I get this answer from BOTH clients and other freelancers: “I don’t have time to network.”

Say what?

How do you expect anyone to find you/hire you/buy your product?

Putting up a website is NOT enough.

One of the best ways to network, whether you’re a business trying to expand your profile or a freelancer looking for new clients, is your local Chamber of Commerce.

The point of local chambers is to connect businesses with each other, so they can work together and grow the community’s economy.

Businesses, you’ll find potential markets and people with skills you need to grow your business.

Freelancers, there’s a pool of people who need your skills. And remember – as a freelancer, you ARE a small business.

Most chambers have one or more open houses during the course of a year. They’re worth checking out. Many chambers will also allow newcomers to attend one or two meetings in the course of a season before paying the fee.

Other networking opportunities include Meet-Ups, associations, non-profit events, and conferences in your town. Any community-based event can be the chance to network.

Having said that, it’s important to be appropriate in the situation. If you attend the Community Holiday Carol singalong, don’t just run up to people and hand out your card. Share the music, share the song sheets, chat with people over cider and cookies. Match your approach to the event or you’ll drive people away instead of engage them.

When I’m discussing marketing strategies with potential clients, I often hear, “Oh, I joined the Chamber for a year and it wasn’t worth the money.”

My response is, “I’m sorry to hear that. Which events did you attend?”

The response, 99.9% of the time is, “Oh, I didn’t GO to any events.”

Do you see the disconnect?

In order to engage a larger audience, you must ENGAGE. Sitting at home, paying a fee to the Chamber (or any other organization) and expecting them to chase after you is unrealistic.

Join an organization. ATTEND EVENTS. Get to know your fellow attendees. LISTEN more than you TALK.

That will give you an idea who to approach for an appointment – or even for a coffee to get to know each other better.

Walking up to a stranger, handing out a card, and demanding someone hire you will NOT get you hired. However, having a conversation, getting to know the background, the business, and asking questions to find out more and to find out their goals and dreams for the coming year – that gives you something upon which to build.

Sitting home in your pajamas won’t grow your business. Sitting in on an event, listening, learning, and then responding appropriately sets a good foundation.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Morning After Networking

There’s a lot of advice out there about “how” to network and how to present yourself, push yourself, etc., as you try to grow and build your business. Read everything, try new things, find out what works for you. It’s important to create your own style of business.

As creative people, we are harmed on multiple levels if we try to fit into other people’s boxes, even if those people dangle possible payment in front of us. We will do better for ourselves and our clients if we ARE ourselves from the first moment, instead of trying to be what they think they want. Often, they don’t really know what they want, they just want fast and cheap.

As you read the advice, role-play. How would you feel if someone approached you in that tone? Would you respond positively or slap them away? There are aggressive techniques out there, especially on line, that drive me away from businesses.

That includes an interview with a potential client that I cancelled a few months ago. It was for a company, it paid decently, it claimed to offer a variety of marketing tasks. The commute would have kind of sucked in some ways, but the money and the content sounded interesting enough for the interview. Until the perky little twenty-something sent me a document detailing how to dress and how to speak.

Excuse me? I am not in my twenties and just starting out. I am in my fifties with a long and varied career behind me, which includes working in wardrobe on Broadway. I know how to dress. I know how to behave in an interview. This document was demeaning to any potential employee, and showed that this was not a good match.

Next!

Networking can be done at almost any event, whether it’s a primarily social gathering, or a conference, or a chamber gathering. What I’ve found the most effective (since I am an introvert), is going there with the attitude of wanting to meet interesting people.

That’s my agenda for any event that includes strangers: I want to meet interesting people who do interesting things.

Since I am interested in almost everything, that leaves me with many possibilities.

Preparation
What type of event is it? Casual? Formal? Do you have any idea of the type of attendees? Corporate? In one particular arena? I’ve attended environmental conferences because I was interested in the slate of topics and met people who remained a part of my life, personally and professionally.

Is it an all-day event? A cocktail hour mixer? A more formal dinner? Do you know anyone else attending? Be careful not to just stick exclusively with one or two people, especially if you arrive together. Make sure you invite people to join your group, especially fellow introverts who have the “why did I ever sign up for this?” look.

If it’s a conference, I make sure I have a conference or pad of paper for notes. I take a lot of notes at these events, type them up, put them in a binder for reference. If it’s a more casual, social event, I have a reporter’s notebook and a handful of pens in my purse.

I wear comfortable shoes. They can still be gorgeous, but I make sure I can stand and walk in them for long periods of time. I’m always amazed at how much I stand at networking events, and I have paid the price by wearing the wrong shoes

Plenty of business cards. I’m big on exchanging business cards. I have different cards for different things I do. Believe it or not, the card I end up giving away most often is for the blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, which then leads people to the other things I do.

I sometimes carry a few of my brochures, or, if appropriate, a stack of postcards or bookmarks for my most recent release or my upcoming release (recent release gets more traction — people pick up the card and want it now). But I do not hand them out unless it comes out organically in conversation, or set them on tables without the host’s permission. I don’t like to feel cornered or pressured by other attendees, and I extend them the same courtesy.


At The Event

Smile and talk to people. Ask them about themselves, and what interests them. Most importantly, listen to the answers. Don’t just think about the next thing you want to say.

I land gigs because I’ve listened to something in conversation and either remembered it in follow-up or scribbled it down in my notebook in the ladies’ room to make sure I remembered it later. I do NOT take notes during the conversation; that makes it feel like an interview or an interrogation.

Include people in your group who look lost or confused. You won’t like all of them. You won’t like or get along with everyone you meet at an event. But start by inclusion, and make your decisions after the event.

The Morning After
That’s what this post is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

The day after a networking event or a conference, I go back through my notes and the business cards.

I send a written thank you note to the host of the event. If, for some reason, I don’t have a postal address, I send an email. But a handwritten thank you is better.

I send a quick email to everyone I met with whom I want to keep in touch. Most of them are just a “great to meet you, hope to talk to you again.” Where appropriate, if we talked about something specific, I might go more in-depth. If we talked about working together and I either asked for more information or promised to send some, I put in a reminder of it, and, again, where appropriate, I send additional materials. If it’s someone with whom I want to see again one-on-one, I suggest a date to get together. I do this the day after the event, if it’s on a week day, or on the next business day. I do not wait more than three business days to do this. Quick follow-up is vital.

I file the business cards. I note on the card where/when I met the person, and I file it in those clear plastic business-card pages from Staples. They’re three-hole punched, and I have a binder. If and when the connection becomes more permanent, I copy the information into my Rolodex. Yes, I use a Rolodex. Every single time I’ve counted on an electronic address book, it’s been corrupted.

I follow up on the follow-up, when appropriate. If I’ve sent requested information, I follow up about two weeks later, unless we discussed a longer lead time. If I come across something relevant to a discussion, I’ll shoot off an email to that person with the information. Sometimes, I send out quarterly reminder post-cards by mail about my services. I find that gets far more response than email blasts. I send a holiday greeting, at least that first year. Again, by mail, whenever possible. I get a far more positive response from mailed materials than from electronic, even though the bulk of my actual client work is done via email. The tangible connection tends to bring tangible results.

I am not a phone person. I loathe the telephone. I find most phone calls a waste of my time (it’s usually the other person liking the sound of his/her own voice, not sharing relevant information). I find it disruptive to my creative process, and a phone call will kill my productivity for the rest of the day. I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments like a lawyer, without exception. So I don’t do follow-up via phone. If someone says “I’ll call you,” or “call me,” my response is “email is always the best way to reach me.” I do not put my phone number on my business cards, and I have my phone set NOT to accept voicemail. That is unusual, that is somewhat controversial, but it works for me and I do it.

If the phone works for you and your contact, by all means, use it. I know I am an anomaly in my phone-loathing.

Now, over to you: what follow-up have you found most effective after a networking event? What’s your timeline to follow up?