When I was growing up, my dad used to take me to Cache La Poudre River, near Fort Collins, Colorado. One of my absolute favorite pastimes was skipping rocks. I just loved the way each rock looked as it landed in the water and jumped to the next spot. Now, my dad was a seasoned professional at rock skipping. Occasionally, one of his rocks would make it all the way across the river, and we would cheer. My rocks would rarely skip and never made it across the river.
Decades later, I know that skipping rocks is all about precision. First, you need to find the perfect flat rock. Second, you need to level your arm horizontally in just the right manner. Finally, you wind up and release the rock, keeping your eyes trained across the river – where you want the rock to land.
But what does skipping rocks have to do with networking? Everything.
Networking is like skipping rocks. The people you meet in your networking group might not be your target customers, but they may know people that are perfect for your business. Getting the rock to other side of the river is like closing the sale, using these skips along the way. Let's look at the process more closely.
Step 1: Join a networking group
It's easy to find good networking groups by searching online. You might try a local Chamber, BNI, Meet Up, Community Service Club, or Professional Association. It's very important that you pick the right group to join.
Step 2: Get involved with the group
You can't just attend a few sporadic events and expect people to remember you. In addition to attending group events and meetings consistently, you need to join a committee or board. This approach is the fastest way to get your name and business known in the group. It will also allow you to create real relationships with the people you meet while working towards common goals.
Step 3: Connect with the people in the group online
If you're networking, you’d better be on LinkedIn! Going to networking events and collecting business cards, but not connecting online afterward, is a huge waste of time. You need to think long-term and strategically. Connecting with a new networking contact on LinkedIn gives you an opportunity to learn more about them. Plus, then you can stay connected forever, and have access to their network of connections.
Step 4: Invite people you meet for lunch or coffee
Collecting business cards but not pursuing real relationships is just walking through the motions of networking. Once you have them in a neutral place, outside the networking event or their professional office, they can be themselves. They will share more with you, and you can do the same.
Step 5: Be calm, cool, and patient
Don't look desperate for sales! You can see the broke networker a mile away. He’s the one hitting the room, grabbing those cards and moving right on. This kind of “networker” only talks about his own product or service and often will beg you for your business – not the way you want to make an impression.
Step 6: Take time to make referrals
What you give, you will get. Instead of making cold calls, try spending one hour a week connecting your connections with each other to help them make sales. It's amazing how quickly they will come to think of you as the go-to person.
Step 7: Be consistent and stay the course
Have you ever heard that you are what you eat, so don't be cheap, fast or easy? The same rule applies to networking. Good relationships take time to build and nurture. You need to be active in your group for at least 12 months before you can say you're truly a part of it. Once you have that status, you’ll still need to stay in that group for years to come.
I can guarantee that if you pick up any ol’ rock and chuck it across the river, without planning, practice, and effort, you will not skip the rock. These seven networking steps will result in sales. if you're diligent and have what it takes to stay the course.
More about Raylee:
Blue Frog Marketing
Raylee Melton is the digital strategy manager for Blue Frog, a burgeoning marketing company based in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a wife, mom, and social media marketing fanatic. She has written well over 40,000 social media posts for businesses and placed over $60,000 worth of Facebook ads.
Raylee is a trusted authority in the digital media field. Frequently interviewed for the Business Record as an online marketing expert, she offers social media trainings and workshops to individuals and businesses throughout the Des Moines area and conducts online trainings all across the country. At the request of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), she collaborated in the development and instruction of a continuing education course on online marketing. She also has been consulted by InfraGard, a partnership between the FBI and private sector to promote homeland security, as an expert witness on online security.
In her spare time, Raylee volunteers as a board member at Booster Pak and as the business partner for Westridge Elementary PTA.