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A Publication of WTVP

In business today, a variety of new technologies has allowed for increased efficiency and effectiveness. Many people rely so heavily on cell phones and palm pilots that they would be lost without them. Business people have found these tools essential elements to function properly. But are these gadgets really our lifelines? How did anyone do business without cell phones 10 years ago?

The answers begin with how we make these connections initially. Networking allows people to make connections-not just connections to enhance a business’ sales volume, but connections to improve the organization as a whole. Meaning effective networking isn’t just an avenue to acquire new clients. Networking can enhance all levels of an organization, resulting in discovering similarities. Such parallels include similar issues, problems, and experiences. Learning from each aspect is the key to building a lasting collaborative relationship.

As a business owner, I not only encourage my sales representatives to network, but also the entire support staff. However, for my company, it isn’t a matter of competition, but rather how we can improve a business’ operations. By understanding the following tips, my employees have created an effective network of beneficial knowledge.

To use networking as a successful tool for yourself and your company, I’ve included the following hints to help you prepare. Before attending any event, be aware of why you’re attending. In essence, what’s your purpose? Are you new in town? Are you prospecting? Do you need additional research? Whatever your purpose may be, you should always have an idea of the people or companies attending a networking event. Finally, prior to attending, organize a short, 15- to 20-second introduction specifically illustrating your occupation.

When introducing yourself, be clear and concise. You want to be remembered in a good way-not as the person who looked nervous and fumbled their words. Next, during the conversation, listen actively. Stay alert for similar interests or problems. Try not to be the typical salesperson, but more a provider of information. While it’s always smart to have an abundant supply of business cards in your pocket, don’t make it your goal to distribute all 50 of the cards.

Focus on having a few in-depth conversations. While discovering a company’s needs, keep in mind price isn’t always the final determinant. Logistics and service play an enormous role in a company’s day-to-day operations. From a follow-up standpoint, this idea produces the best results. After a conversation has ended, take a second to get away from the crowd and take some quick notes to help you remember that person. This is a key strategy because it’s hard to remember names and faces when you meet several people each day.

After a few days, follow up with your contacts by sending them an e-mail or personal letter. Failing to follow up destroys the whole concept of networking. Therefore, great importance lies in completing this final step in a timely fashion. By effectively completing this process, I’ve witnessed my business’ growth.
Even though maintaining contact through e-mail or phone does enhance a relationship, keep in mind Peoria is still a "handshake" community. People still like to see faces, which develops a more personal connection. In the Peoria area, countless opportunities to network exist, and many are unaware of such occasions. As a board member of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, I value and regularly attend many of their networking events because of the benefit I derive from them.

Such annual events include the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Golf Outing and the Community Thanksgiving Luncheon, which provide a way for businesses to come together and explore possibilities. The Chamber also sponsors monthly events that cater to early risers, including the Business Breakfast Series and Early Exchange. And for the evening dwellers, the Chamber features a monthly Business After Hours. The Ambassador Program, another excellent Chamber service, is a referral network for newer members in the Chamber.

Use these tips and techniques the next time a networking opportunity arises, and see the difference successful networking can make. Networking starts when you have an opportunity to meet and get to know people. Use your Chamber membership to make that happen-I do. IBI

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