While there are a myriad of benefits that can result from doing business and networking online, it is important to note that its hard to beat the advantages of traditional forms of “in-person” networking throughout the business-rich Orlando and central Florida area. This is the case for several reasons, including the fact that the most powerful bonds amongst people are still established and sustained through relationships that begin and evolve in the physical, offline world. Since this is the case, business owners, sales professionals and other business professionals who are interested in personal and business growth should note that offline networking is very important. In other words, get out and do things. With people.
There are a variety of ways that professionals can begin the business networking process. Here’s ten strategies to get you started:
1. Review Your Current Network
Who do you know in Orlando? Oftentimes, business professionals who are attempting to take their networking efforts to the next level seek to extend their current network by making new contacts. While this is a good idea, it is often the case that reviewing one’s current network is an even more effective way to do business. This is the case for several reasons, including the fact that you will typically have already begun the process of building rapport with individuals who are in your existing social network. Since this is the case, convincing these people to become your business partners, purchase products, or contribute to the growth of your organization in some significant way will likely be easier than if you were conversing with a stranger. Additionally, reviewing the people in your current network and contacting them will help you continue the ongoing process of maintaining and increasing the rapport that you have with them, making them even more likely to contribute to your business in the future. Also remember that reconnecting with people in your old network is a great way to meet new people.
Volunteering at a local homeless shelter or some other worthy cause is an excellent way to build or improve upon your company’s reputation with the local community. Like an community, Orlando has a variety of needy organizations that would greatly benefit from your time and participation. Additionally, volunteering is a great networking opportunity that enables you to connect with, not just other members, but the leadership of the organization(s) you will be serving. Often times, these organizations have board’s of directors composed of, not just philanthropic, but successful people. These individuals will likely be great business contacts and can oftentimes connect you with other professionals who could eventually become your customers, clients and business partners.
3. Take Your Online Contacts Offline
You know all those contacts you have on Facebook and LinkedIn? Well take a close look to see who is located in the Orlando area. That way you can start looking for opportunities to re-connect with them in person. Perhaps inviting them to an event you’re planning on attending. Better yet, invited them to join the new charitable organization you’ve joined. In recognizing that conducting business is contingent upon attaining as many high quality contacts as you can, it’s important that you tap into your online contacts as a source through which you can begin doing business in the offline sector. To accomplish this objective, review all of your online contacts. These people could come from a range of places, including outlets such as Meetup.com. This strategy is efficacious for a number of reasons, including the fact that taking contacts from the online sphere into the offline sector will help extend the rapport that you’ve already begun generating online.
4. Career Fairs
Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, attending a career fair in your industry is one of the most best strategies you can utilize for the purpose of professional networking. There’s a number of reasons, including the fact that a big part of the business-building practice is finding intrinsically motivated, intelligent employees who are willing to take the reigns so that your company continually operates in excellence. By going to job fairs where college students who are on the verge of graduating will be looking for jobs, you afford yourself an opportunity to meet a wide variety of young, confident, passionate professionals who may be the key to taking your company to the next level.
5. Attend Conferences
Attending industry conferences is yet another wonderful way to network in the offline sector. And being located in Orlando is a huge benefit, given that it is a central destination for business conferences. Find out when you’re industry is going to be doing something in town. Naturally, you may find it advantageous to attend conferences with subject matter that is directly pertinent to your field. However, you should note that there may be any number of conferences beyond those specific to your industry that can provide a healthy volume of new business prospects, as well as being helpful in extending your business contact list and finding people who are interested in either working with you or purchasing your products or services. For example, an accountant might find it useful to attend a conference for chiropractors, given that all businesses are going to need help keeping the books and managing their tax strategy.
6. Create Great Business Cards (And Use Them!)
Since you’re going to be out meeting people it might be time to freshen up those business cards. Although many people believe that physical business cards are going to become obsolete as a result of our ability to store contact information via electronic devices, the exchange of business cards is still an incredibly effective and prevalent practice. Since this is the case, it’s a good idea for business owners and professionals that want to network and expand their businesses to purchase great business cards that they can hand out at events, conferences, lectures, etc. While there is not one perfect way to create a business card, it’s important to note that branding is an incredibly effective marketing strategy that can help improve your conversion rates. With this idea in mind, you should strongly consider including your central mascot, motto, image, or phrase on the business cards you create. Once you have created great business cards, be sure to take them with you to local events.
7. Be Committed to the Process
Irrespective of which professional networking and business strategies you seek to employ, they will always be much more effective if you are intentional. Although the word “intentional” can be defined broadly, it generally references the process of engaging in a certain activity in a purpose-driven, systematic manner that enables the individual to accomplish a goal. The act of being intentional stands in opposition to sporadic, happenstance behaviors that are not implemented with the consistency necessary to yield substantive results. In the world of business and professional networking, some of the acts that you can perform intentionally would include going to conferences and attending social events for the purpose of meeting new business contacts. In sum, make networking a priority. Stick with it over time and don’t expect results right away. As you might find someone you met 10 months ago remembered you, found your business card and reached out.
8. Attend Professional Networking Events
Attending professionally-oriented social events is yet another great strategy you can employ to ensure that your business and professional networking endeavors are effective. Unfortunately, many business people dichotomize the worlds of work and play such that they would never think of using a social function like a birthday party as a mechanism through which to earn a new customer or find a great new employee. Yet either of the aforementioned functions could be used to accomplish this very purpose. The key to success with building your business in social settings is to present information in a casual, non-pressuring way that helps foster curiosity about and receptivity to your products. The idea here is to first make friends, then let business happen, either directly with that individual, or through personal referrals and recommendations. And use can still use online tools to help you find events offline, like Orlando’s meetup.com. The Citrus Club in downtown Orlando also has regular networking lunches, events and happy hours.
9. Join a Business Networking Group
Every city has business networking groups. Orlando is no different. Each group functions a little differently. But the idea is the same. Connect small business owners, entrepreneurs, sales professionals and business people with each other to expand everyone’s overall network. The Executive Exchange of Central Florida (shameless plug) is one example of business networking group here in Orlando. Most groups will meet several times monthly for breakfast meetings, seminars and social gatherings. The value of these groups is that the individuals are committed to taking professional networking seriously and helping others in the group be successful. As described above, being intentional and committed to the process is critical in being successful over time. And being part of a group helps sustain and encourage participation, building not just business relationships but strong friendships as well
10. Give Away Promotional Products
Think of ways to get a sample of products and services into the hands of your customers and clients with little or no risk. Growing your business requires getting as much awareness around what you do as possible. By giving something away, even something small, it is an incredibly effective way to help you achieve greater awareness and loyalty. Giving away promotional products is a useful strategy for many reasons, including the fact that they function as a way that you can get other people to use and then (assuming they’re happy) advertise your goods and/or services. Effectively those people become evangelists for your products and services, telling other people they know. Everyone loves something free. So by giving away promotional products or services you can help build rapport with individuals who may eventually become customers or business partners, or refer you to someone else who will. It’s at least worth a try.
If you are interested in ensuring that your business continues moving forward, you should note that there are a variety of strategies you can implement to accomplish your objective. By utilizing some or all of the techniques described above, you can begin meeting more people, expanding your networking and building your business today. Good luck! And let us know how it works out…