Be PreparedNovember 9, 2011
So, here’s a question: What do you do once you’ve identified a networking contact, sent out your invitation and gotten the meeting? Answer: You get prepared!
The easy part was getting the meeting and all of the steps leading up to it. But if you really want the meeting to count, I cannot stress enough the importance of preparedness. What follows is a shorthand guide to going into your meetings with confidence, knowledge and a good sense of what you hope to accomplish from the discussion.
Your personal commercial or elevator pitch. You may have heard the expressions “personal commercial” or “elevator pitch” before. The idea behind an elevator pitch is that, you get on an elevator with someone you want to share information with knowing you only have from the time the elevator doors close to the time that they reach their floor to spit out a quick teaser. You want to give them just enough information that their appetite is wetted, leaving them wanting more detail that will come out through additional conversation.
I always recommend that you have a short version of your pitch (say two minutes)… and a shorter version (maybe 30 seconds). You need to read your audience (or count the number of floors you have to express your pitch before the elevator doors open again!) to know which version to share. Whatever the case, OWN IT! Practice in the mirror, recite it to your dog, know your own story. Basically, be committed to the information that you are sharing and allow it to roll off your tongue with utter ease and conviction. It will help your prospect to understand you better and to better be able to help you in the long run.
By way of example, when I was transitioning from Sprint, here is the elevator pitch that I used:
I am seeking opportunities in the Kansas City area with small- to mid-market sized companies looking for leadership to help them achieve growth or enter new markets. I want to be part of a collaborative culture and a company at which I would have a seat at the leadership table – a place where I can contribute to the strategy and future of the organization and to have decision-making authority and accountability.
Now, as President of Kauffman FastTrac, here is the commercial that I give when describing what I do:
Kauffman FastTrac is a non-profit, educational organization that provides entry to the entrepreneurial ecosystem for current and aspiring business owners, before – during – and after the startup process. It does so by licensing a series of content to third party organizations around the world that deliver FastTrac courses to entrepreneurs based on our proven methodology.
Whether you already have an elevator pitch or personal commercial, ask others for feedback to ensure that you are saying what you think you are saying. This is an evergreen process – you should constantly refine your pitch. It will always, always be a work in process and you will become clearer and more articulate about what you want, need, are looking for, etc. as you use the words repeatedly.
Have business cards. Please, please, please… whatever your purpose in networking, be sure to have a business card (students, I’m talking to you, too). Business cards make it easy to share contact information with others and will help to ensure that you are seen as a true professional. They do not have to be expensive – in fact, go to Vistaprint.com – that where I get mine. There, you can get very inexpensive (caution: do NOT go for the free cards… they have a note on the back that says something like “printed at Vistaprint.com” on them and look as cheap as they are… there is a price to “free…”) cards printed in the design of your choice that fits your style and persona. Another great place to order cards is Moo.com – a bit pricier, I think, but the cards are gorgeous and true conversation pieces. Myself, I have two business cards: One personal card that positions me as a “Marketing, Strategy and General Management” expert, and one professional card as President of Kauffman FastTrac. Depending on the situation, I hand out the appropriate card.
Have a great resume. You won’t always need or want to share your resume, but when you do, it needs to stand out from everyone else’s. One of my long-time mentors, who also happens to be a networking genius, once suggested to me that a resume is like a negligee… it reveals just enough to get the other party interested…. Without sounding too risqué (not my intention!), I encourage you to heed that advice! Make sure that your resume is results focused. There should be plenty of “white space” and the font should be legible! Plus, be sure that it is well written and says what you think it says. Again, be sure that you get feedback from others. I won’t go into too much detail here… I could start an entirely separate blog to focus solely on this topic!
Have a professional bio. Whether you are employed or not and whatever your networking objectives, it is important to have a professional bio at the ready. In addition to a bio being a handy tool for introducing yourself to a prospect, the bio can serve other purposes – for example, I find that whenever I am asked to speak at an event or talk with the media, I am asked to share my bio. It can be short and sweet… in this case you can have a short and a long version to accommodate the request. I suggest one at about 200 words and another at about 500 words or one typewritten page.
Do your homework. If you have gone to the trouble to reach out to someone to ask for the meeting, please take just a few more minutes to get to know them before you meet them. There is so much information readily available that it would be criminal to not do a little background checking in anticipation of your meeting. Your prospect will be impressed that you bothered and your meeting will be more productive because you will know more about the type of information that the prospect might be able to share with you and vice versa.
A few resources that I love include:
- LinkedIn (later in the week, I will go into more detail about LinkedIn): You can review your prospect’s contact profile here to learn about the companies that he/she has worked at, where he/she went to school, what others are saying about them, how many other contacts they have, blogs they write, etc.
- Company website: Be sure to visit the prospect’s company website to understand what the firm does, learn about its industry, know what topics/issues it is focused on and, perhaps most importantly, read recent press releases or news articles about the firm.
- Your public library: If your local public library is anything like mine, it will have business librarians on staff who’s very purpose is to help people like you research information related to business. Plus, most libraries offer free access, via the internet, to a wealth of databases and reference information that are typically too costly for the average person to have a subscription for. It is worth taking a mid-afternoon break (maybe between Lunch and Coffee?) to visit your library and learn about the resources available to you. (Want to find out who the business decision makers are? One reference database that is awesome is ReferenceUSA; check it out!)
Once you have done your homework – and note, this should not take you too long… maybe 10-15 minutes… you will be able to easily identify areas of common interest, background, experience. These make great conversation igniters and will help to make your meeting more productive.
Whoops! Looks like I have gone overboard once again on my word count, but, frankly there is so much more that could be said about the topic of preparedness. Frankly, I’m worried that I didn’t say enough!
By the way, I welcome your input. Let me know your tips, tricks and tools for getting/being prepared for networking opportunities – I know that the entire Coffee-Lunch-Coffee community would benefit from your insight. A few of you already have been so gracious and forthcoming with your suggestions and recommendations for improving this blog. I take your advice seriously and over the coming days I plan to implement some of your suggestions. Thank you!
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the importance of sticking with your networking endeavors and how a shot of caffeine may be just the thing you need to keep energized….