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When so much business success depends on who you know, it's a wonder more businesses don't make a concerted effort to network. In fact, swapping business cards is the first step to successfully mining a new lead. If you're not sure where to network, or you're not sure how to effectively get your business cards in the hands of serious prospects, read on for a few simple tips that will have you acting like a networking pro in no time.
While it's true that you should be ready to hand out your business cards to anyone, anywhere; it's likewise true that there are a few places that are more likely to yield a response than others. These places are packed with professionals like yourself who have a common goal: to make more money. They understand that networking - and thus exchanging business cards - is the first step to success and therefore are ready and willing to learn about what you have to offer. Trade conferences and other events are a great place to find this type of professional atmosphere. Nearly everyone at a trade conference has something to sell; and also needs products or services that others in attendance offer. For this reason, they expect to be sold to, and this is a great opportunity for even the smallest of businesses to break into the industry. The only drawback to these events is that it's difficult to budget going to all of them, so you're only likely to attend a handful every year. Even so, just one trip to the right conference to meet the right people can yield yearlong business - and beyond! For a more regular networking experience, try joining your local Chamber of Commerce or a networking organization such as BNI, where networking is the sole focus of meetings. Service organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Optimists are other great groups for networking. Everyone in these organizations shares common goals and sees each other twice a month or more, so you have the opportunity to build long-lasting friendships that can result not only in direct business but also business referrals for years to come.
Successful networking is an art form. If you want the business cards you hand out to make it past the office trash can, you need to make a great impression on everyone you meet. Be jovial, smile, make eye contact - and don't be a high-pressure salesperson. Professionals deal with this all week long, so meetings and conferences often offer a bit of respite from the daily grind. Take a casual approach and try to learn as much as you can about others' businesses before bringing up your own. Find common ground both on a business and personal level. You might be talking about a high-profile merger one minute, for instance, and then about each others' children the next. By personalizing your conversations, you'll earn trust and respect that will pay bigger dividends than your sales pitch ever will. After you've met each person for the first time, make sure you ask for their business card and give them yours in return. The following week at the office, make sure you take the time to send a follow-up e-mail expressing how much you enjoyed meeting them. If you're in a group that meets weekly, keep in contact outside of the meetings every so often so you'll stay fresh in their minds. Also, be sure to send business to your contacts when warranted. If you send business to them, they will send business to you, guaranteed. Your business card is a lasting token you must leave with all prospects, but you must also make sure you do it right. If you're only there to get sales, experienced professionals will recognize that and will not be likely to keep the business card you give them. If you come across as one of them, however, you'll instantly boost your business through potential long-term business relationships.