Small Business Networking Is About Relationships

I’ve told this story many times. I have been networking since the early ’90s….yes, I’ve been around that long. It was a time of large networking events.

One event I would often attend had an interesting way of passing business cards…white coffee cups, large size. The cups would be placed around a table and you simply walked around the table and dropped a business card in each cup. At the end of the evening, you picked up your cup and left. Now we have Speed Networking.

So why do I tell this story again…Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit a structured referral organisation. That’s a small business networking group that allows only one person from each “type” or “discipline” in business, ie: one banker, one real estate agent and so on. The visit took me back to the slamming’ days of networking and the white coffee cups.

As I approached I saw some business buddies I knew, so it was noted when I signed in that I already had “friends” here. I mentioned that we belonged to another structured referral organisation and was immediately greeted with the “rules” about what I could belong to and what I couldn’t belong to. That would be welcome enough for small business networking, however there’s more…

As I filled out my name tag (reminder to self, my friend was right…get my own name tag) the woman behind the table asked me to stop and write my name so people could read it. In other words, my writing sucks. Now, admittedly, I do have my Dad’s way of writing, however is that really something you want to say to someone who is checking out membership in your group…and you’re meeting for the first time? After all, you’re going to ask me to fork out $330 annual fees, plus $100 registration fee and $40 a month in food/room fees, as well as requiring me to attend a “good member training”.

Now the fun part. This small business networking organisation asks that the guests place their cards on a tray and the tray is passed around for all the others to take the guests cards. The members card box is also passed around, however somehow it didn’t get to my table. So, they had my card, however I didn’t have theirs…well accept for the people I really did meet, converse with, and exchange cards.

When I checked my email this am, one of the members emailed me about how nice it was that I attended their meeting and how happy I would be as a member. Then, she put me on her email list…..here’s where I bristle. I never met her. She never came to me and introduced herself and I never found my way to her to introduce myself. If she had, and if she’d used the approach with me in person that she used over the call we just had, she’d realise I have a professional relationship with an anti-aging skin care consultant. If I had any referrals, he would be the first person I’d refer.

Why? Because he and I have been networking for well over a year. I know him, and if anyone I knew needed anti-aging products I’d refer them to him. He and I have a business relationship.

So, along comes the phone call today. I don’t care for people not telling the truth. She called, reminded me that we had met, which we hadn’t, and told me she called to ask me about my business.

However, the next sentence was…. “if you remember I have the anti-aging skin care line.” I told her I was well acquainted with the line, and it’s major competitor, and knew many consultants with each company. With that she ended the call…before she could find out what I did, which is the reason she called me.

Two points to be made with this story.

Taking a business card off a table, tray or other item does not constitute meeting someone. In the internet marketing world, we live by the SPAM Act. There should be a reasonable expectation that we’ve met before you add me to your email list. At least there was an unsubscribe I could use, and did use.

Don’t lie to me. Don’t call me and tell me you met me. If you had met me, you would have known I was not an ideal client for you. However, if you had a conversation with me in which I told you I had an existing business relationship, and you still tried to “sell” to me, what does that say about your integrity?

Small business networking is about relationships. If your networking group is holding an open house, maybe you don’t need to worry about whether you can read a name on a tag or not. Maybe you can forgo the “rules” talk at the door. Maybe you should actually try to meet the guests and not just collect cards. You’re the host!

For as much as we hear that relationship marketing is the way to go, or that you want to aim for “referrals of a lifetime” there are still plenty of business owners out there who are all about the white coffee cups.

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