IT Professional Council

Business networking for IT is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.

Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For IT the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.

Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.

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It is how as a IT we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.

Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.

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Let's talk about inviting people to your business events in this article. The tips that I am going to share later applies to not only business related events but also normal events as well.

If you have tried inviting people to come for your business events be it networking or talks, you will agree with me that it is not easy to get the numbers especially if you are inviting business man and women because they prioritize almost all events according to ROI (Return On Investment) - if your event does not justify their time to be there, then most probably you will have a poor turnout.

Based on my experiences and observations from the other very experienced networkers in my business circle, I realize that there are only three things that you need to do it probably in order to have a high turn-up rate for your events.

1. Is this what they need?

I do not invite every person I meet to my business events such as BNI. If the first thing you meet someone new is to ask him / her to come to your event, then this is something that you may want to stop and re-think on.

Listening is by far the most important skill we need to learn and refine (not only for business). Thus, the first thing before we even start inviting is to ask relevant questions. For example, if you are holding an event for Internet Entrepreneurs to come together and network, you need to ask and assess if the person you are talking to has this area of interest.

A good question you can start off is, 'Have you been to other business networking events?'. This question not only help you understand them better but also make them reveal if they think they needed such exposure. You will be surprised that some business owners will answer this question admitting that they should go around networking more often! Now, do you think if you invite them to your event at this point of time, the person will be far more receptive and appreciate your invitation?

2. Persistent - the additional effort that makes the difference

A lot of invitations I receive nowadays rarely exceeds more than 3 times. If you are holding an event that happens regularly (for example, monthly), you must be persistent and keep inviting no less than 7 times. Most of the times, people are kind enough to tell you that they have other commitments and couldn't attend your event. If this is the case, invite them again when your next event is coming up. This kind of followup is the key that makes the difference.

I remembered I was inviting a business associate of mine who has rejected me no less than 5 to 10 times (I lost count...) because of his usual morning commitments. One day he finally make it to my BNI (Business Network International) event and thank me for inviting him to attend such an eye-opening event. I think sometimes we just have to be persistent especially if you see that your event adds value to the others.

3. Reminders - the secret to 100% turnouts

I never know that a simple reminder can make such a big difference until I came across a material by Dr. Ivan Misner who mentions that reminders are important and we should remind the people who have agreed to come for our events one or two days before the event.

It can be frustrating sometimes if you see that the person you have invited did not turn up in the end just because they forgot. Hence, a simple reminder either through phone or SMS can be very helpful. At the time of posting, there are already systems in place to send out automated reminders to people who have registered for events. One company that can help you to leverage this technology is FlexiSoft - managed by Norman Chin from BNI Singapore, Raffles Chapter.

Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.

Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.

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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.

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An important part of conference management is the conference evaluation. Most association conferences are repeated annually so it is critical for the planners to make an assessment of the quality of symposium sessions, speakers and overall experience. It will be less likely that association members and guests will attend future conferences if their previous experiences are mediocre at best. Only by getting relevant feedback from those in attendance will you ever know how well your conference was received and who you can count on to provide quality presentations for your future conferences.

A good conference planner will have a clear understanding of their goals and objectives and have an effective review process in choosing speakers and session topics. These instructor selections often come from personal encounters but most come from the recommendations of others. Speakers, session topics, venues and amenities don't always provide the kind of quality desired and need to be weeded out. You can accomplish this by providing attendees with an easy conference evaluation tool that will assist you in making the necessary changes in environment, personnel and material that will assure a more successful conference in the future.

What kind of questions should you ask?

With a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the conference in mind, prepare a comprehensive list of questions and associated measurable responses regarding individual speakers and sessions. Question responses will be either "Yes / No" or multiple level responses such "Excellent / Good / Fair / Poor" or "Strongly Agree / Agree / Neutral / Disagree / Strongly Disagree" to name a few. Search the internet for examples of conference evaluation questions. The measurable values usually would be higher the more positive they are as in Excellent being a value of 4 and Poor being a value of 1. The result would be calculated as a mean and provide you with a quick glance at the overall response to a given question. It is customary to provide an overall evaluation section in the survey to capture the general sense of the success of your conference which would include site location and amenities and the impact that the conference overall will have on an individual's career or practice. Some open-ended questions or comment sections should also be provided to give the attendee opportunity to more freely express their personal insights and observations. All of this data will be extremely helpful to you in planning future conferences.

What is the most widely used evaluation instrument?

At the present time, paper OMR evaluation forms are the most widely used conference evaluation instrument. They are often combined with a web version of the survey for those more inclined to use their computers in the evaluation process. It is helpful in this situation to provide wireless 'hot spots' at the conference site for immediate participation while things are fresh in their minds. However, many attendees will prefer to respond online when they return to their home or office. The data from both of these sources can be combined and the tabulated results put into a readable report generally containing such things as response counts and tabulated percentages and mean values for easy review. The OMR and web survey process is best facilitated by a company with the tools and experience. They can also assist you in preparing your questions, and designing, printing and scanning your evaluations and preparing your reports.

As one responsible for conference management, you look forward to positive feedback from your attendees to assure you that things went according to your best laid plans. However, negative feedback is also very helpful in making sure you get the best resources for your next event and continue to grow into a healthy professional association. Make sure to set aside a part of your budget for the conference evaluation process and find a reputable company to help you. May your next conference be better than ever!

Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible IT you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.

Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for IT to build relationships and expand your network.

Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.