With December upon us and the holiday season getting into full swing, it seems like social calendars are filling up fast! As a small business owner, I find it particularly important to attend a number of holiday events – each event is a mini-marketing activity that allows me an opportunity to talk about my business and make connections with potential clients and referral sources.
While attending parties and events may sound like fun, I, as an introvert, often find it very draining – especially this time of year when there are more events than usual. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I am shy; it simply means that I find interacting with groups of people to be very draining and I need time alone to recharge my batteries. So the idea of attending a party full of people I don’t know, let alone a handful of holiday events, is definitely not my idea of a good time.
However, I have realized that I can make tweaks to my marketing plans that play to my strengths and allow me to make the most out of each networking opportunity – without trying to convert myself into an extroverted marketing fiend.
Look at Everything as a Marketing Opportunity. A good friend and mentor of mine told me to look at everything as a marketing opportunity. Whether a small dinner party with friends, a trip to the hair salon, or even getting an oil change for your car, all of these small daily interactions provide an opportunity to get to know people in the community and to let them know a little bit about you and the services that you provide. Seemingly polite chitchat may provide opportunities to talk about what you do, what you like about your job, and what your client demographic looks like. It’s a small world out there and sometimes just saying you do estate planning leads someone you just meant to exclaim that they need to do their will. Marketing doesn’t have to be a planned out event.
Host Your Own (Big or Small) Event. One of my major pet peeves is attending social events where everyone knows each other from the same line of work. While it can be interesting to talk in depth with knowledgeable people about a particular topic, I much prefer social events that mix people up a bit from all walks of life. To that end, my extroverted husband and I host get togethers (for a few people to upwards of a few dozen) multiple times a year. This allows us the opportunity to spend time with people we know (and hopefully like), as well as mix in a few new faces. Because we are hosting, we spend a lot of time talking to our guests, which includes talking about business and making connections. Sometimes we target our guest list to people we think are viable referral sources and/or potential clients; other times we invite people we think would have fun together and leave it at that. It isn’t my goal to find a client at our parties, but it is my goal to let people know what I am doing so a connection could be made in the future when they, or someone they know, needs particular services that I provide.
Figure Out a Goal. I always have at least one goal in mind for networking events. Sometimes it is to meet a particular person or to find the answer to a particular question. Other times it is simply to meet a certain number of new people. Having a goal in mind helps me network with a purpose and gives me something to focus on. Large groups can be overwhelming, so knowing what you want to get out of an event before you even walk through the door can help you find a place to start.
Plan Your Schedule So You Can Shine. I am not a morning networker. If your event meets before 9:00 a.m., I may attend, but I won’t be happy about it. I may have been out of bed for a few hours, but until I get a handle on my day and settle into a rhythm, I am not going to be at my best. I also know that I need some wiggle room between appointments because I hate being rushed and/or late. Knowing these things about myself allows me to pass on events that would make me more frazzled; instead, I focus on events that fit into my schedule and allow me to be at my best when meeting new people.
Know Before You Go. Before I attend any event, I try to do a little bit of homework. If it is an event hosted by a particular group, I review their website and may even read up on any current news. This way, if I meet someone from that group, I have a conversation starter. In addition, if I can find out who may be attending, I often find someone that I would like to meet and can make a point of seeking them out at the event.
Follow Up. Most networking events aren’t set up for deep conversations. Keeping that in mind, I try to follow up with people that I meet at an event who I found interesting, who I could learn from, or who I think could develop a mutually beneficial working relationship with. It’s important to follow up close in time to the event so that the person knows who you are and remembers you.
Ask for Advice/Help. It has been my experience that one of the best ways to network is to ask for advice or help. People are generally more than willing to lend a hand and talk through an issue – but they have to be asked! Think outside of your immediate network and find people they may know who could help you. I often use a friend or professional contact as a referral source for other professionals who can assist me – this allows me to make a contact with someone new and gives me a good opening for contacting them since we know someone in common.
Clients. Past and current clients are an underappreciated networking source. I make a point of putting important client-related dates in my calendar (even after a matter has been closed). Following up on an important event or birthday lets the client know that I care about them and also provides an opening to remind them of your services (either for themselves or for their friends/family). Sending a client a birthday note has directly led to referrals for me that I may not have otherwise received. This time of year, sending holiday cards with a personal note to each client is also a great way to thank clients for their business. Rather than simply sending a form holiday card, I add a handwritten note to each client to personalize each one. It is something simple, small, and cheap, but it is an easy and effective way to keep your name in the forefront of someone’s mind and to make a personal connection.
Marketing and networking are about relationships – focusing on developing quality contacts helps me network without feeling pressured to meet everyone under the sun. It’s all about what works best for you – there are a ton of different ways to develop a network and you have to decide what approaches work best for you.
Photo Credit: Michael Discenza