When it comes to face-to-face networking, you should focus on two varieties:
- Attending meetings or events where you will likely find your target market.
- Attending meetings or events where you will likely build your bridges of influence.
Once you've established your target market, it's smart to explore events where they would most likely attend. But, you shouldn't stop there. You can expand your network exponentially by building bridges of influence.
Your bridges of influence are different than your target market. These are the people who won't be buying your products and services, but they know the people who will. For example, if you are an interior designer, your bridges of influence could include realtors, home builders, and contractors. These are the groups of people who have direct contact with the home owners who can benefit from your service.
Your bridges of influence are the people who can create a connection between you and your target market by endorsing your credibility. They provide an introduction between you and your prospects, and help you initiate a relationship that builds trust quickly.
To foster relationships with your bridges of influence, start by locating them. Figure out where they congregate, what meetings and events they attend, and attend those meetings (or be a speaker at those meetings).
- Name two industries or professions that could serve as bridges of influence for you?
- Where are two places you can find these people (i.e., what professional associations, events, or groups do they belong to or attend)?
- Network at a bridges of influence event at least twice a month.
As you build these relationships, you can explore opportunities by asking for referrals. Also, you may discover collaborative opportunities, like partnering on a project or other ways in which you can help your bridges of influence be more successful. The key to cultivating networking relationships is to make a lasting positive impression based on trust and credibility.
Take Action: Get Together
A great way to cultivate these relationships is to have a "Get Together." Invite your new contact to get together with you at a coffee shop, a restaurant, or the local park. The purpose is to get to know each other and deepen the relationship. When you contact the person, explain your intentions, such as "I'd like to get to know more about you and how I can help you and your business" and set a date, time, and location to meet.
During the first get together, start by focusing on getting to know the person. Ask open-ended questions that demonstrate your interest, such as:
- What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
- What is a Sunday like for you?
- If your two favorite sports teams were playing, who would they be?
Be careful about making it sound like a job interview - you are not interrogating this person; you are just getting to know him or her. If you show genuine interest in his/her answers, you will avoid sounding like an interviewer.
When the other person begins to show interest in what you do, that's your invitation to talk about your business. Be sure not to dominate the conversation though. Be mindful of keeping the conversation balanced between both of you.
To end the conversation, suggest a next step, such as:
- Another get together
- An exchange of resources or information
- Refer a prospect
Bridges of influence are a big piece of the marketing puzzle. You may have heard the expression before, "It's not what you know, but WHO you know." When you build many bridges to people who can spread the word about your product or service, your business will thrive. This week, go out and build a bridge of influence!
Learn more about Bridges of Influence and Business Networking by listening to this week’s episode of the SkillPreneur Radio Show:
Episode 68: Effective Networking for New Customers and Business Growth
Ed Abel Biography: Ed has invested more than three decades into learning how to build successful, thriving businesses. Starting his first business with a $5,000 loan, he created a $36 million organization, within seven years. From there, he went on to create 12 other businesses.
Through this life experience, Ed developed the desire (and passion) to share his extensive business knowledge. In 2004, he founded ABEL Business Institute, an education center for business owners seeking expertise on how to create a sustainable and profitable business.
Additionally, Ed is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurial studies at New York University (NYU), business adviser and instructor for NY Designs, part of City University of New York (CUNY) as well as the Director of the business division at the world class Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).