In the spotlight today is Virtual Assistant, Charity Van Vleet of Eagle Eye Web Services.
When I started working from home years ago, I never expected to find value in networking. That was what employees did and I wasn’t interested. I expected to be at home, in my comfy clothes, music blaring, not a care in the world, while doing what I loved. I quickly realized I would be out of business if I didn’t make some changes. No one knew about my business! Even though I did hundreds of proposals in the beginning, had a website and an active Social Media campaign, and was in search engines, I still wasn’t getting the steady volume of work I wanted. Sure, my business was doing well but I wanted more than to just do well. After some trial and error, I found face-to-face networking to be a vital and crucial part of my marketing strategy that revolutionized my client base. Here’s four quick tips which have helped me make the most of my networking time and money.
Keep your focus: Networking by itself won’t pay the bills, but can generate additional clients and revenue over time as well as invaluable business contacts for services your business needs. Start small, with one or two groups and don’t over-commit. A local Chamber of Commerce can be an excellent source of business and community involvement. An industry specific networking group in your area would be a good choice as well. Try to keep your networking groups to no more than 3 – 5 high quality groups and cultivate relationships with the members. Attend regularly and get to know others. Also remember to set a networking budget and include membership fees, meals, gas, mileage, parking, tolls, and advertising costs (for those flyers and business cards you’ll be handing out).
Work the room right: Networking is a skill that’s built over time. Cultivate conversational skills by focusing on others and asking open-ended questions. Seek to learn all you can about other people and other industries. Don’t rush from person to person collecting business cards (I see this often and it is extremely annoying. Don’t do this. Ever!). Focus on meaningful conversations and finding common ground. Consider your meeting a success if you have 2 or 3 solid contacts that you’re excited to connect with. Don’t try to push a sale. It’s okay to plan some icebreaker questions in advance like, “What do you do?”, “Where are you from?” “What do you like most about what you do?” “How did you start your business?” Then just relax, and let the conversation flow naturally.
The Three F’s: Follow up, follow up, follow up. Don’t waste your networking time and money by neglecting the all-important step of contacting those people you had a conversation with. So often I send emails to people I met or call them and never hear from them again. Schedule a one-on-one appointment to find out how you can help them with their business. If it’s too difficult to do a face-to-face appointment, then schedule a phone conversation. Make it clear that you’re interested in getting to know them better and want to learn how you might be able to help them with their business. Go beyond the one-time sales element and build a relationship. That will bring you more sales as well as respect in the long-term.
Forget about Competition: Someone there does the same thing you do? Don’t skip them! Befriend them and offer to collaborate. Everyone’s skills are unique and so is their knowledge. Use that as an opportunity to trade tips and tricks, work together on big projects and subcontract overflow work. The possibilities are endless!
Charity has over 15 years of business experience and owns Eagle Eye Web Services. She is passionate about small businesses and their owners, focusing on helping them grow and stay profitable.