Sally couldn’t bear to go to another one of those get-togethers. It’s always the same people talking about the same things. She joined to make contacts and find prospects, but it’s become like a bad AA meeting for designers.
I’ve talked to a lot of Sallys. Home-based business folks who joined some industry group in hopes of getting customers or finding leads. Making connections in your industry is one thing, and an important thing. But thinking a room full of your peers will lead to customers is a common misconception.
This may seem obvious. But for a lot of solo entrepreneurs just starting out, it becomes a comfortable place to network. They join an industry group, go to all the meetings, network, eat bad hors d’ oeuvres, and go home with nothing to show for it. Let me stress that these groups are terrific for meeting like-minded people who work in your industry – but not for getting leads, customers, or referrals. For that, you’re better off going to places where your customers hang out.
Where the Customers Are
Now, a lot of these things are closed to vendors. I’m sorry for using the “v-word,” but for the uninformed, you are a vendor. You’re not yet a trusted advisor (which if you’re doing it right, is what you really are and will be for them).
These folks don’t want a bunch of people trying to sell them something while they’re socializing and getting up to speed on the latest developments for their industry. But if you can gain access, and you’re really looking to provide value and help them with their issues, industry shows that target your customers are one of the best places to get leads.
If you are invited, you’d better have some real value to offer. Also, be ready to talk very little, and listen a whole bunch. In some cases, you’ve been given a key to the kingdom, and if you choose to be one of those types, you won’t be invited back.
Know What You’re Looking For
When you join a group or attend events, know what it is you’re after. Knowing in advance, and writing out what your goals are for the group, will help you stay focused. Remember, industry groups for your industry are great for info, involvement, and peer discussion, but not for leads. Know from the get-go if that’s what you want to gain.
If you’re looking for leads and prospects visit groups and shows where your customers are. Go with the intention of finding where their issues are, and listen to what they have to say. Then be ready to offer some advice. Your goal is to be their advisor after all. Why not start out the relationship that way?
Where do your customers hang out? Go find out, and find a way to be invited there.
This is terrific advice Tony; great article. As a business coach, I’ve had the good fortune to be taken to their industry networking events by a few of my customers as their guest, and those situations have always been the best for both of us. Luckily for me, coaching has turned the corner here, where having a coach is considered a smart move and good investment, not a life-preserver grab by sinking ships. I get in-person referrals, and they like having the association with Managing with Aloha in our local market- they actually prefer I ‘work the room’ on my own, introducing myself as being with them, as opposed to obligingly staying at their elbow.
You also hit on an observation I’ve made at these events too, where it seems people are largely there to network because they are expected to (or their boss sent them to make an appearance), but they stick to their comfort zones and don’t get much out of it other than renewing some existing friendships with other comfort-seekers. Thus it is very easy for me, as the ‘newcomer who has to,’ to introduce myself, and in the process introduce something new and fresh to their polite, but tired conversations. A great opportunity many are missing, where you really don’t have to ‘sell,’ just introduce yourself and bank the connections.
Hi, I never joined an industry group or respectively an industry group meeting, so I can’t say whether its’ good or bad, but I definitely did a lot of networking with kindred spirits in the Hawaii Vacation Rental business. It’s fun plus one can learn more than at any seminar. I prefer to find the right people for exchanging opinons and ideas. Without that, it’s hard to make it to the top as an individual. Aloha, Pua
I always enjoy when you write about solo entrepreneurship. It seems to one of those topics that there aren’t many resources about. Perhaps because each situation is so unique. As a person that would like to get out of the corporate bubbly one day, I appreciate all advice about how to get started.
Rosa – That’s similar to what I tend to find. As a home-based entrepreneur, every aspect of what you do IS marketing. Being able to network productively is crucial. I’m surprised how often the types of places to network aren’t considered, or there are no goals as to what you want to achieve from the event. I think the key is knowing in advance what you want to get out of it, and listening. About 80% of the time should be listening and only about 15% talking. The other 5% covers eating and drinking 😉
Pua – That’s a good point. Finding connections is a good use of any industry event, though I think there’s often some confusion as to what to expect.
John – Thanks. I’ve found that taking some basic concepts and adapting them to your own business and lifestyle works best as a solo entrepreneur. So much of it is about WHO you are, so naturally you have to only use what works. I’m in the process of launching a new venture, so I’m reusing a lot of the stuff that worked for me before. So far, so good 😉
I’ve always found that “natural networking” such as meeting with people at a party, or my kids games has benefited me with longer lasting client relationships.
Coop – Terrific point and I completely agree.
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