Attending Multiple Networking Events
Yields More Leads
In order to explore how people in Gwinnett use business networking to grow their businesses, we sat down recently with Pam Fennimore, and asked her about her experiences with networking. Here's what we found out:
Pam started attending Network Gwinnett three years ago, after hearing about it from a sales prospect. At that time, there were only about 15 people participating, as opposed to the over 100 people that typically attend a Friday meeting today. The first few times she attended, no one talked to her, and she realized she would need to draw on some of the skills she had learned as hostess to events at her church.
She advises people new to networking to arrive before the meeting starts, and to be one of the last to leave. She would get involved by asking others at the meeting how she could help them, and would volunteer to help set up the room or put papers out. Being there first makes it easier to meet people attending the meeting, because it is easy to greet people as they arrive, as opposed to walking into the meeting late, and hoping to be noticed. By staying after the formal part of the meeting has ended, you can develop contacts with stragglers.
When Pam attends a networking event, she looks for the person standing against the wall, looking lost, or overwhelmed. After greeting them, she encourages that person to mingle, by reminding them that most people here are just as nervous as they are. She will also make intrdouctions for them to various people at the event that would be a great contact for them to know. This serves as an ice breaker, and gives her an opportunity to meet new people. She tries to reach out to people and not prejudge them based on their name tag or the industry or business they represent. She says "every person has a story", and she enjoys finding out what makes people tick.
Even if she doesn't see a connection between her business and theirs, she wants to find out what they do, since she might be able to act as a resource for that person. In her business, she talks with many people, and she tells her clients "If you ever need anything, and aren't sure where to get it, ask me, and I might be able to help".
When she first started attending networking events, someone told her, "Don't come to networking meetings expecting to sell to the people in the room. Instead, come to the room and sell to the people they know". She continues to pass this advice on to people she meets at the networking events she attends.
Different Types of Networking Meetings Offer Different Experiences
Pam regularly attends three different types of networking meetings: Network Gwinnett at the Chamber of Commerce, the North Gwinnett Business Association, and a chapter of Business Network International. She says that each meeting offers different opportunities for her to grow her network.
Attending Gwinnett Network on Friday mornings gives her an opportunity to meet a wide variety of people, and gain a basic understanding of what they do. The open nature of the group means that there is a constant stream of new people to meet, some of whom become regular attendees, and others who attend only periodically. The NGBA meetings allow her a chance to interact more with the people she meets in a less-structured, more social environment. The closed networking format of the BNI meetings teaches her how to be accountable for the people she networks with. Business Network International allows only one member of an industry per chapter, and members are expected to bring referrals for each other. The BNI format is more of a business meeting atmosphere, where each member is expected to act as part of the sales team of the other members.
Pam freely hands out referrals to members of one group to people she meets at the other groups, particularly when that person's business is not represented. In some cases, Pam finds herself in the position of knowing several different people who are in the same field who she could refer to someone looking for their services. In that case, she tries to match the personalities of the person she is referring to the person receiving the referral. By understanding the needs and interests of both parties, and making the right referral, she hopes to be able to increase the chances of closing the sale.
Finally, Pam points out the importance of the informal networking that goes on at places like Coffee Coffee Coffee in Duluth. "The gold is not in the room, it's in the follow up", she says. By getting together informally with the people she meets at networking events, she can learn more about their business, and explore how to share leads and grow each other's business.