Pittsburgh’s business people have a big year ahead of them. It’s time to grow our businesses and expand our networks! And, the best way to do that is by strategically taking advantage of the scores of networking opportunities available to us in the City of Champions. Pittsburgh Business Networking takes a look at some of the networking trends to look out for in 2020, as well as how best to make them work for your business.
You may be under the impression that face-to-face networking is diminishing in importance now that much of our business interactions are dominated by social media. This simply isn’t true. The internet and all its numerous platforms cannot work for your business on their own. On Facebook or LinkedIn, your profile is just one of the million others. Your ads get lost in the clutter, scrolled over, and ignored. With so many businesses trying to make some kind of impact on the web, it is more important than ever that you make good use of the old-fashioned face-to-face meeting. So, don’t underestimate the importance of trade shows, conferences, and other networking opportunities.
Liking an Instagram post is no way to forge a relationship. Meeting someone in the flesh, on the other hand, enables you to establish a connection. However, there is more to networking events than the potential depth of the relationships and contacts you can form. The success of these events is also a question of context. When you try to reach people on social networks, you get lost in the clutter, trying your luck among millions of users who may or may not be relevant to your business. At a tradeshow – even if it is a big one – you narrow your playing field considerably. The event is attended by companies within your sphere of business specifically. You can prepare before you go by making a list of exactly which companies and individuals you want to meet, and setting up appointments beforehand. Unlike relying on “luck” with a Google Ad or Facebook post, you can come up with a carefully planned and targeted strategy.
There is one important thing to keep in mind though. While tradeshows and networking events do give you a smaller platform to work on than a social networking site, they are still often fairly large forums where you will be surrounded by other people with similar objectives. So, as you develop your networking strategy, you also need to work on a way to stand out with your potential clients and partners. You need to devise an unbeatable pitch. Or, better yet, dispense with the pitch completely.
What? Lose the sales pitch? The presentation you have written and polished and rehearsed over and over? Absolutely. Nobody wants to hear it. Potential clients can see a pitch coming a mile away. And, therefore, they tend to switch off as soon as you dispense with the initial greetings and shift into the tell-tale tone and attitude that makes it very clear that you are trying hard to sell them something. So what to do instead? Just start a conversation.
Better yet, strike up a series of conversations. That is essentially what networking is. Instead of trying to sell your product, shift your focus to meeting people and establishing relationships. You need to state why you’re there, of course, who you represent and what you do. But rather keep that as brief as possible and then establish a dialogue where both parties can chat easily. Start by asking them key questions about what they do. If you’re asking questions about their business and not trying to push yours, you are sure to get them engaged. You can then follow up at a later stage with casual discussions about how you can provide them with a perfect solution. You don’t need to worry about closing a deal on the spot. If you have made a connection and made yourself unforgettable, you will have no problem reopening the conversation later. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t convert qualified leads on the spot if you can, but placing the emphasis on good relationships will pay off later.
The increased importance of networking events in 2020, together with the abandonment of the pitch, are perhaps the two most important networking strategy trends for 2020. However, these do not mean that online social networks are likely to fade into insignificance. Far from it. You do need a little of both face-to-face and online networking. And, the two of them should support and complement one another.
As far as online networking is concerned, watch out for the following trends:
Build Meaningful Engagement
It has become pretty clear that the established practice of flooding your networks with content, in the hopes of building up likes and followers, does not equate to successful marketing or effective networking. The various platforms are now focusing on ways of building meaningful engagement. If you can reach that one person who can become your biggest client, it is much more valuable than having millions of followers – most of whom now have to remind themselves who you are every time they see one of your posts. So, work on the quality of your content, hone and perfect it. Make sure that it not only represents your brand to a tee, but also that it is strong enough to turn browsers into readers, and readers into buyers.
Also, allow your online networking to support your face-to-face networking – and vice versa. Once you’ve established good relationships in person, follow up by making contact through social media, become friends, like posts, all of that. Then use these networks to establish further face-to-face contact as needed to close deals. As the relationship deepens, a feedback loop should form between the two forms of contact. It is at this point, once a relationship is properly established, and not when you are trying to reach perfect strangers, that social media starts to work its magic.
Continuing with the theme of using online tools to supplement your face-to-face marketing, here are four great digital tools that will help you to develop your business network in 2020.
Let’s start with the obvious one. When it comes to the major social media sites, LinkedIn is undoubtedly the most useful one for business, provided it is used right. Take the time to use and share good content. And, always make sure that your profile is complete, polished, and fully representative of your brand.
Alignable is an online network where small business owners across North America drive leads and prospects, generate referrals, land new business, build trusted relationships, and share great advice.
Meetup is an international service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests within the same local area. Find business, groups, and events in Pittsburgh and extend your network.
Instead of collecting piles of business cards at your next trade show, just scan each business card with this app, which then saves all the details to your address book.
With tools like these at hand, there shouldn’t be any reason not to make the most of every business networking opportunity available.
Here are five important tips for maximizing your next networking event:
1. Make Sure You’ve Chosen the Right Event
Be very careful when choosing which events to attend. Are you sure this event is right for your business? Are you going to be reaching the right audience? Find out what each event is intended to do and what audience it is aimed at. If it isn’t a close fit, with opportunities you can capitalize on, don’t waste your time.
2. Move Around
You shouldn’t spend all your time speaking to one person. It’s tempting if we find people we are comfortable with, but this is not the point of the event. Spend short periods with people and then move on.
3. Be Prepared
Have a strategy in place and follow it. Make sure you have brought everything you need, from business cards to brochures.
4. Dress Appropriately
You can never underestimate the importance of a good presentation. Check the dress code if there is one. If not, just make sure you look your best.
5. Focus on Developing Relationships, Not Making Sales.
If you need to find places in the Pittsburgh area to practice your networking skills and make some key contacts at the same time, try these organizations, which can help you grow your professional network quickly and effectively:
Pittsburgh Young Professionals
PYP has around 600 members and is one of the longest-standing networking groups in the city. It hosts 45 events a year, ranging from happy hours to community outings. Meet young entrepreneurs from all kinds of industries for just $70 a year.
Pittsburgh Women’s Mastermind
This is a group of like-minded businesswomen who support each other on their respective entrepreneurial journeys. Established, successful entrepreneurs share advice and ideas with women who are taking their first steps with their businesses. It’s a supportive forum of women who are looking to share their enthusiasm for their businesses and to help others do the same.
Network After Work
This national organization hosts networking nights in cities throughout the US. There is an event once a month at a different bar in Pittsburgh, offering informal opportunities to chat with fellow business people in the area.
Chambers of Commerce
There are over 30 Chambers of Commerce in the Pittsburgh Region and they include members from every kind of business in Washington, Butler, Allegheny, Fayette, Westmoreland and Beaver counties. They provide support for their members, enhancing their talents and resources to create a climate of growth and success. Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber of Commerce, Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, South West Communities Chamber of Commerce and Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce are just a few in the area.
Rotary Clubs, of which there are many throughout the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, offer great opportunities to connect with people from a broad spectrum of the city’s corporate and entrepreneurial world. You can meet valuable business contacts while getting involved in the many charitable and community upliftment programs initiated by the Rotary network.
Most business sectors in Pittsburgh have their own specific networking groups. One example is the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, which hosts many key networking events for professionals in the housing industry.
Following the basic format of speed dating, business speed networking gathers networkers into a room and have them conduct brief, timed networking sessions in which they exchange details and basic business information before rotating to the next networking partner. Conferences and networking groups throughout the world host speed networking sessions, including many of the Pittsburgh-based ones mentioned above. Keep the same principles in mind that you would follow when doing ordinary networking, but discipline yourself to keep it short and sweet – always a good skill.
Here are just a few of the great business networking opportunities happening in Pittsburgh this year. Be sure to add them to your calendar:
When attending your next trade show or another networking event, you may find yourself overwhelmed and uncertain about how to make your attendance count. How do you approach people and make them talk and listen? Here are three primary strategies to help you take control of your networking.
1. Forget About Sales Targets and Focus on Establishing and Building Relationships.
As we’ve already said, relationships should be your focus. When you make this your primary strategy, the pressure falls away. It’s no longer a question of how many deals you can close. You can just talk to people, get to know who they are, what they do, and what they want. You will be more relaxed and able to pounce on a sales opportunity when it presents itself.
2. Approach the Unknown
Use these platforms to get to know people and companies you have never heard of or never considered approaching. This is the only way you are going to find new leads and opportunities for growth.
3. Adopt a Service Mindset
Don’t go in there thinking “how can I make more sales or secure more clients today?” Rather ask, “How can I serve? How can I help?” Keep a sharp look out for any challenges and needs that you can solve. Make it your objective to provide solutions.
We have already discussed the symbiotic relationship between in-person and online networking. The problem with networking on social media marketing is that it is often weakly strategized. There is a tendency to throw content onto the web and hope someone reads it. This is a dangerous and pointless approach to social media. You have minimal time to make an impression and you need to make it count. Here are four rules you can follow with your social media strategies:
1. Target as Narrowly as Possible
Know exactly what audience you are trying to reach. Don’t look for numbers. Thousands of likes, follows, and retweets don’t matter. Rather, ask yourself how you can tailor the engagement to your specific audience and then work your content and posting strategies accordingly.
2. Narrow Your Networking Options, Optimize Your Time
Make a point of going only where you can reach the right people. This might mean that you should forget about Twitter and focus on LinkedIn, for example. You could potentially waste hours trying to engage on a platform that just doesn’t suit your business and audience.
3. Look for the Right Niche Contacts
Use the groups that are a member of Facebook and LinkedIn to track down contacts that are specific to your niche or industry. You need to be careful how you go around in these groups as most of them have strict moderation in place. So, make sure you are following the rules.
4. Attend Live Events
This comes a close second to actually attending a conference or other physical event. Use the opportunity to give feedback and interact. Get involved in the right discussions for your business.
Be sure to attend the Pittsburgh Business Show this year!
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