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.
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!
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.
Networking may not be enjoyable to some people but we can always make it fun and profitable for businesses. The following are just some of my tips to share with you how you can get the most out of your next networking session:
1. Know the location -It helps to know where the event is going to be held beforehand. It is both frustrating and embarrassing to appear in the wrong place and keep calling the host who is busy talking to his / her guest.
2. Always arrive early - If you can follow this, you will make it as a top networker in no time. I always respect people who turn up not only on time, but well before the event starts. Arriving early is not only for show, you can have a great opportunity by connecting with the host and guest speakers (if any).
3. Bring more name cards -Bringing more name cards can make a difference at times. In a professional business event, it is embarrassing to tell people that you run out of name cards. If the event is expecting 100 people, bring 150 name cards. You will need them for something you will not expect - lucky draws, subscriptions and unexpected turnouts etc.
4. Get to know the host - Most networking events are hosted by certain organization and associations, part of the reason to arrive early is also to have time to talk to the host and tell them what you do (if this is the first meetup). As a host, we respect people who turn up early. This is also an excellent time asking the host if they know of someone who can help or work hand in hand with your business.
5. Find out who will be attending the event - This works if you have a way to know who will be attending the event. If the event is displayed via Facebook or Meetup.com, then you will be able to know who may be attending (via the guest list). After you know who will be attending, spend some time going through their websites and prepare some small talk topic when you meet them. You may even find a common interest between you and the person that will be attending the event =)
6. Prepare your 10 seconds 'what you do' pitch - To be honest, no one is interested in what you do in most networking events. If you fail to impress people during the initial 10 seconds of interaction, you will have to work harder to make yourself memorable. One tip I have here is to stress on the benefit when people ask 'What you do for a living?'. If you are an Accountant, don't reply saying that you are an accountant, just mention that you help businesses to cut down as much as 20% (or some statistics that is realistic) of their costs. An Entrepreneur with common sense will be eager to hear more and ask you how they can do that!
7. It is better to overdress - If you can't figure out the dress code for the event, just dress formally. It won't hurt by overdressing in most events. Appearing in formal dress code also signifies that you respect the host and VIPs of the event. Overdress will also make you memorable for most people especially the host.
8. Advertising Zone? - It is also important to ask the organizer if there is any way to share the benefits that your business will bring to the attendees on the event. Some business networking events will have some sort of 'Advertising Zone' that allows you to place your marketing materials for exposure. Some even have business booth.
9. Identifying the top 3 trades you need - Most businesses cannot survive on their own without forming alliances with leads flowing from one to another. For example, Corporate Services Provider works pretty well with Web Designers, IT Support Companies and Accountants. You need to place the top 3 trades that you are looking for on top of your mind at all times. Doing so will make it easier for you to connect with someone who is in the trade that you are looking for on any networking event.
10. Find out and participate in the event theme - Some monthly or Bi-monthly events do organize networking themes at times. For example, an event may request everyone to turn up with red-white theme in the month of Aug (Singapore National Day). Have fun and participate in the theme for the event. Participating in the theme also show that you are giving support to the host or organizer.
Sounds easy? Try them out in your next networking opportunity!
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.