Business networking isn't everyone's cup of tea. But then again, neither is watching your sales pipeline dry up. Luckily, Alexandra Eesley, marketing consultant and founder of Eesley Consulting (@EesleyConsult), says networking doesn't have to be chore. Despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, Eesley is now excited about networking. Here are her tips for making connections and generating leads.
Business Networking Tip #1: Make It Personal
Personal connections take extra effort, which is why Eesley recommends meeting people individually. She says sitting down with someone and having a personal exchange creates a greater stake in the relationship for both people.
"For me, growing my pipeline means making meaningful connections and building relationships based on common interests and trust. You start thinking about whom you could connect them with, and they hopefully do the same."
That's a significant shift from the way many people approach networking.
"The biggest mistake I believe people make when it comes to networking is saying hello, exchanging cards, and then waiting for them to reach out or expecting to get referrals sent their way," she says.
After each interaction, Eesley suggests you send a thank you email that recaps the conversation and lists action items for moving forward.
"Not only does this set the tone for our relationship," says Eesley, "but it gives me something to search for in a few months when I’ve forgotten what we talked about."
Business Networking Tip #2: Go Online
Face-to-face meetings are great, but Eesley says she also found business networking success online. When she lived in Chicago, Eesley joined several digital networking communities, including one for women in tech and another for mothers who are business owners. Joining these groups gave her "instant gratification and an immediate connection to like-minded individuals," which can be harder to find in person. Plus she was able to access these networks even after she moved out of the city.
While Eesley maintains connections with her Chicago-area digital communities, she wanted similar online communities for her location in the suburbs. So she developed a digital networking community specifically for professional women in her area called The Fringe Network. Eesley says the group has seen great growth in its first year as women in the community embrace this new form of networking.
For more ideas on making connections, read "The 7 Best Small Business Groups for Networking."
Business Networking Tip #3: Find Your Niche
If you're building up your pipeline from scratch, Eesley says local networking events are a good place to start. She says in larger cities you can probably find industry- or demographic-specific groups that fit your interests. In a small city or town, you may want to look to your local chamber of commerce. Either way, she says you'll start to see familiar faces once you attend a few events.
Once you get the lay of the land, Eesley suggests you identify the groups that are right for you. Ultimately, she tapped into interactive networks by finding niche groups with like-minded individuals.
Finding your niche can sometimes ignite your passion. For example, Eesley's experiences working with women and digital networking led to her launching her own online community.
"Seeing other women grow businesses, advance in their careers, and create their own paths gets me excited about my own business and excited about life," says Eesley. "I don’t know if there is a more valuable way I could invest my time than that."
About the Contributor
Alexandra Eesley founded Eesley Consulting on the belief that any company, no matter how small, should have access to marketing solutions that work. Her goal is to help small- and medium-sized business take their marketing to the next level.