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Networking can be a great way to meet potential customers and discuss a variety of topics that can lead to ideas for our own business. But are these activities suitable for everyone? Not for the client part. It all depends on the value that each client has for you. If the value of each customer is small (we are talking here about the lifecycle of the customer), spending a few hours of your time to meet 5-10 potential customers is surely not the most productive thing you can do. However, if each client brings you a few hundred or even thousands of dollars, then networking activities can be a good opportunity to get yourself known. There are two main types of networking activities: virtual networking and real-world networking.

Whether you use virtual or real-world networking, you must first understand who your target client is. How do you do this? If you have or had clients, you will be able to understand who they are and where they are by doing your segmentation process. If you are starting and your customer profile is not yet defined, you will have to go with the desired customer profile. In the future, you will be able to adjust.

For virtual networking, it is important to use thematic groups on social media. For example, if you are looking for Human Resources professionals, on LinkedIn there are groups like "training and skills development (32,654 members)" or "management and human resources (18,561 members)". Same thing on Facebook. If you are accepted in the group, then you must interact with the members; answering questions that are of your domain of expertise and share your opinion. If there are points with which you might disagree, say so. However, remember this: when online, you do not interact only with your interlocutor; but with all the people who will read the thread. So act courteously to show the best of yourself. Share your expertise and of course, if you're doing content marketing and it's relevant to the group, then share your information. There are also the people who will follow you. You can interact with them. Know why they are following you, what they expect from you, maybe arrange a meeting if you are from the same city or schedule a phone conversation.

Real networking follows the same lines. One of the most important steps to network well is to carefully choose your activity. Knowing who you want as a client will help find activities that they will attend. For example, if you want rich people, you want to target business meetings, real estate presentations, art gallery openings or special events, charities, or travel conferences. The first type of activities is obvious, but the others come from what people with higher incomes do: investing (real estate, the arts), giving to charities and traveling.

But before you even start networking, you need to have your communication tools ready; there is no point in making an excellent first contact with potential customers if your communication tools are not up to date and you cannot do a proper follow-up. You should consider a website, social media presence or other means of communication that you want to use. Don't forget your business cards !!!

Then it is a question of finding those activities. Here are a few options; your chamber of commerce or business association will do some, large companies in your area also. But the three online places I visit most are: EventBrite, MeetUp and Facebook. In EventBrite and MeetUp, there are a multitude of groups and types of activities available. Look at what your potential customers are interested in doing, join these groups and participate. On Facebook, the "Event" app is gaining popularity, it will allow you to plan activities of any kind. Once you've broken the ice and registered on these platforms, things will be a lot easier because you will receive a lot of invitations in your email box to participate in activities according to what you have registered for.

Once you have chosen an activity, how do you go about it? I personally go there to learn and not put emphasis on trying to find customers. Thus, the conversation flows easily, and the barriers are lowered on both sides. Go ahead and ask questions. Eventually, your interlocutor will ask you what you are doing and at that moment, you can give him your little presentation. And you must be patient. On the first occasions, maybe your presentation will be too vague, too long, too much on the sales side. Watch the reaction and adjust it. It's like everything in life, it all comes with practice.

When interacting, be generous and give good advice. Rather than saying how good you are, show it. Once the networking activity is over, follow up. If you have the business cards of the people you meet, try to find them on the different social media presences you have and if they are there, send them a message to connect by mentioning that you met them at the XXX activity, that you would like to thank them and keep in touch. Of course, if you have made a commitment to send them something, do not wait and do it the next day.

With all these techniques, you will see your network of people and opportunities grow. Happy networking.

Stéphane Elmaleh-Riel, B.Ed., MBA
Marketing consultant