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Networking - work or a chance to escape?

Network meetings have become the business world's new religion. Everybody is talking about them and the hallelujah shouts almost make you sick. But you know, most successful business owners I know never attend organized network meetings at all. They have too much to do and simply let the people who aren’t as busy waste their time on such meetings while they take care of their customers and make money.

Hmm ... Do you think I’m sounding negative and boring?
Life itself is one huge network meeting. That's true, but the problem is that if someone shouts the word” network meeting” there will suddenly be 100 entrepreneurs who all have difficulties getting assignments immediately appearing in the same place, wanting things from others without giving anything back. It doesn't work. I actually know several service businesses that have collapsed because people were networking too much. Instead of taking care of all those annoying things that being in business is really about - calling potential customers, knocking on doors, finding new customers - they dress up and waste hours on meetings over breakfast at some hotel.
Instead of exposing themselves to the dangerous word “no” on the phone or when facing customers, they attend safe little meetings where they think they'll sell themselves to everyone. Some say that those who need to go to network meetings are the worst in the industry because they need to go to networking meetings.

OK, it's not that simple. Network meetings can also be very effective - if you attend the right meeting for the right reasons. You can't just afford to waste time by mingling at meetings held in posh places. You must have a plan when you attend a network meeting - a smart plan.

Here’s your plan in six steps:

1. Evaluate every invitation you receive and use your gut feeling when you decide which meeting you should attend. Do you think you'll be meeting people that you can benefit from and who may be useful for you?

2. Decide what you need to accomplish even before you leave the office. Don't let sheer faith determine the outcome of the meeting. You should talk to at least 5 people you don't know and get new information. The big fish may be lurking somewhere - is he/she there? How will you reach him/her?

3. Learn why shy people always seem to be so nice. Do you know why? Because they're asking you things instead of highlighting themselves. They often ask for advice and let you stand in the spotlight. Even if you are shy, you can always make use of a little mingling.

4. A network meeting tends to be a place where there are people who already know each other gathering in small little groups and glancing over at everyone they don't know. Don't just stay put in one place because it's comfortable and homely. Give each person you come across five minutes and then move on.

5. What should you say?
Here are ten smart conversations starters you can use the next time you need some. The point of these is to actually get a discussion going, rather than running a “song-and-dance number” that will describe what you sell:

1. What do you like most about what you do?
2. What is the weirdest or funniest thing that happened in your industry?
3. Which promotional activity has been the most effective for you?
4. What is your main product?
5. What do people like most about you?
6. What is the most important thing for you right now?
7. What do you think has been the best thing about this meeting?
8. What trends have you seen lately?
9. What is your ideal customer?
10. How are you going to make this event help you? Why are you here?

Four things to consider when you're stuck with someone who is so boring that the only thing you can think of is throwing yourself out of the window just to get rid of him/her:

• Tell yourself that it's part of your role to listen (whether it's a customer or your boss)
• Try to look for important information that might be embedded in the boring performance.
• Ask questions. An uninspired talk may mean that that bore isn't so inspired himself/herself.
• Look for any other topic that could light the fire in his/her eyes.

Promise to do this now - stop wasting your time. It's better to make calls from the office than munching breakfast at a nice hotel. Evaluate the benefits first - if you want to be successful, that is.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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