Is Your Networking Notworking?

A few years ago, having just set out as an E-Newsletter consultant, I got together for dinner with my old friend Jack. At the time, Jack had been an independent consultant for about ten years, and I knew he’d have a good perspective on what worked and what didn’t in launching a business.

I learned a lot over dinner, and by the time we ordered coffee I was feeling pretty energized about my business vision and my prospects for success. That is, until Jack started talking about “networking.”

“You have to attend a minimum of two networking meetings a week if you want any hope of building a business,” he advised me. “You go to the meetings, you look for the prospects, you work the room and you `press the flesh.’ That’s the way it’s done.”

I took this as very bad news. First of all, it scared the hell out of me. On my own personal scale of, “terrifying experiences to avoid,” I rank “working a room” somewhere between having more children and being trapped in an elevator with Donald Trump.

Secondly, I’m just not that good at connecting cold with people I don’t know. I barely know how to press my own flesh, let alone that of a complete stranger.

So when I confessed to Jack that my marketing approach was instead to, “attract clients to me by sitting in my office and cranking out useful, interesting, targeted E-Newsletters in my area of expertise,” he looked at me as if I had just revealed plans to perform my own dental work.

Now several years later, I’ve learned a few things.

First, Jack’s recommendation is not unique. In fact, it’s part of the standard lore of professional service marketing: If you want clients you need to be out there networking at meetings.

Second, Jack’s recommendation is just plain wrong. Wandering around local business events in the hope of meeting future clients is about the least efficient use of your marketing time and money that I can imagine. It’s the sole practitioner equivalent of sending out hundreds of resumes in the hope of finding a job. It may feel like something’s happening, but the hit rate is exceedingly low.

Instead, I recommend (big surprise) an E-Newsletter. Here are three reasons why:

1. An E-Newsletter is more targeted. Even if there were a potential client at the meeting, the odds of the two of you hooking up are small. You first have to wade through lots and lots of people who aren’t a potential match, many of whom often turn out to be other small businesspeople trying to get you to buy their services (a situation which my friend Betsy likes to describe as, “all ants and no picnic”).

Your E-Newsletter by contrast, includes only those who have a self selected interest in your topic, and the likelihood of one of these people hiring you is much higher than with a randomly chosen member of the business community.

2. An E-Newsletter is more efficient. The problem with face-to-face networking is that it requires the presence of your face; you can only physically get in front of so many people. An E-Newsletter on the other hand can be shared and forwarded by an unlimited number of people, and as a result (pay attention, this is important)it does its job without your even being there. Most of my new clients are people I’ve never even heard of, who contact me after getting a hold of my newsletter and reading it over a period of time.

3. An E-Newsletter is more. A quality E-Newsletter is much more than just a proxy for the exchange of business cards at a meeting. It positions you as a thought leader; it serves as content you can submit and have published elsewhere; it’s acts as a tool that others can use to accurately describe what you do. It’s archivable; it’s searchable; it’s scaleable; it’s trackable and it’s interactive. You get the idea.

Bottom Line: I’m 100% behind the idea of building a network and systematically staying in touch with as many people in that network as possible. I’m also in favor of attending business meetings — as a means of staying educated, keeping in touch or simply putting on some nice clothes once in a while and getting out of the office.

But in terms of building a client base, I think it’s time we put this piece of conventional wisdom out of its misery. Until then, I’ll be hiding in my office — avoiding The Donald and awaiting your call.

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