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Strategically Networking Your Way to a More Productive Sphere

Agents often view networking as a happenstance activity. We’ll show you how to make it an integral part of your overall personal marketing strategy and increase the number of leads you generate in the process.

You know the feeling, and it’s a good one. Let’s say you were at a chamber of commerce meeting or your kid’s soccer game. You met someone recently, struck up a conversation, talked for a few minutes, exchanged business cards, and voila!‚ a week or two later, they call informing you that they are moving and they are interested in your services. It’s part fate, part destiny and part strong communications skills on your part.

Whatever the case, it’s a hot lead. If only there were more of them, right?
Well, that’s what this article is all about. This month, we’re going to focus on taking the fate out of generating more leads from your sphere of influence, and it all starts with networking. But when it comes to networking, agents often take a far too passive approach to this critical activity.

Dispelling a Myth
Many Hobbs/Herder graduates and clients sometimes become fixated on direct mail as the only marketing solution. When in fact, Hobbs/Herder’s philosophy has always been to take a much more holistic approach to building your brand and a situational approach to your marketing. Just as a candidate running for office would consider and/or employ direct mail, print and TV advertising, outdoor advertising, public relations, Internet marketing and more into a campaign, so too should agents in their personal marketing campaigns. And just as a big part of any candidate’s role is pressing the flesh and meeting people face-to-face, we classify networking as marketing activity that can significantly impact your overall campaign.

Networking can amplify everything else you’re doing, says Greg Herder. It can also be a lot of fun. A word of warning, however, as Greg continues:‚ If I had to make a living based only on a social farm, I starve.‚

The lesson? You have to possess the right personality to become a good networker, or else you have to be willing to adapt your personality to network effectively. If you are not naturally a people person and are unwilling to change that, networking might not be for you. If you have the right personality and/or are willing to give it a shot, keep reading.

Developing a Networking Strategy
As an essential element of your marketing game plan, your networking strategy needs a written plan that should be followed and tracked. Remember: A plan is not a plan unless it’s written down. You must also have defined action steps and methodologies in place to hold yourself accountable to your networking efforts. These are all areas in which most agents fall short. Rather than put a plan in place, they approach networking from a casual, Hey, I talk to people all the time‚ perspective. So let us say it again, to be effective, networking needs a plan, written down, followed, and a system to hold you accountable to that plan.

Networking requires a significant investment of your time, so by all means you need to maximize your return on that investment. Take the time to integrate your networking efforts into your overall marketing game plan.

Where to Start
By our definition, networking is that activity of meeting people with a purpose. That purpose is to expand your sphere of influence and communicate that you are in real estate. If you are a Hobbs/Herder brochure client, you already have an advantage when it comes to networking. Your personal brochure is an outstanding introductory tool to establish rapport with people quickly and effectively, and networking-friendly events provide a perfect opportunity to hand out brochures on a one-to-one basis. We’ve found that many agents are shy about handing out their brochures in person, but once you learn how, doing so can have an extremely powerful impact on your business.

Find Your Comfort Zone
The biggest key to effective networking is to start with what feels comfortable to you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some risks, however. In fact, your networking will not be successful if you try to do it subtly. You cannot be shy about it. Chances are, one to two percent of the people you talk to may even become upset by your efforts. Just like in any aspect of marketing, that’s okay. If you’re not making any waves, your campaign probably isn’t as effective as it can be. Don’t worry about one or two percent. Focus on the other 98.

To connect with people, you need to be able to relate to them, and vice versa. So choose groups that you have a natural interest in. Whether that’s your church or your country club, make sure that you have a common link to the people you will be meeting. This means that networking groups that are developed for the sole purpose of networking are a bad idea and a waste of time. Everyone is there to sell each other something. Your goal at the functions you choose is more to meet people and establish rapport with them.

Step-by-Step Networking
Once you’ve decided upon the groups you are going to network in, attend a function and during that event, try to mingle and talk to as many people as possible. You don’t necessarily have to talk about real estate, but you do want to establish the fact that you are in real estate. What you‚’re doing is looking for an opportunity to present your personal brochure to those people you are meeting for the first time. All of this is an art form that takes some practice. Don‚’t be afraid to try it at least once, though. As with anything, the more you do it, the better you will become at it.

In addition to distributing brochures, you also need to be collecting names and contact information from the people you meet. One way is to simply exchange business cards (someone asking for your business card is a perfect opportunity to give them your personal brochure), but another way is to carry small note cards and a pen with you. When you ask for their information, hand them a card and ask them to provide you with their name, a phone number, and their address. The beauty of the note card is that when they hand it back to you, you are able to write down notes regarding your impression of each person as well as any pertinent facts about their family, hobbies, or other things that can be used to make a connection with that person. Write down what you found unique or interesting about that person. This provides you with ammunition for your follow-up efforts.

Networking Follow-Up
If all your networking ever consisted of was accumulating names and adding them to your direct mail database, you’re not maximizing the opportunity your efforts provide you. People will feel like, ‚ÄúOh, he just wanted my name to sell me stuff.‚Äù That’s why it’s crucial that you follow-up with specific materials to those people you meet through networking.

The key to doing this effectively is to follow the networking pattern and keep your messages personal in nature. If all people receive from you are Just Listed Powerkards, they will not continue to form that personal connection as strongly as if you follow up with a personal letter – quarterly – about what is going on in your life and with your family. Make the people you meet through networking efforts feel special, as if they are a friend or family member.

Setting Networking Goals
Without a planned agenda and a commitment to the time necessary, you will not succeed in networking. You will simply be too busy with other day-to-day responsibilities and will most likely push it to the back burner. That’s why you need specific goals for your networking efforts.

According to Greg Herder, you should plan one-to-one lunches with prospective clients met through networking two to three times each week. In addition, you should be attending a minimum of one event or function per week in the aim of networking and growing your sphere. An often-missed critical key to success in any marketing campaign is personal distribution of 100 to 200 brochures every month. This can have a significant impact on your business.

Taking a Holistic Approach to Marketing
In conclusion, we like to urge you to stop thinking about your marketing in narrow terms and start thinking of it in terms of being a candidate running for office. Not only would a candidate have direct mail materials, print and TV advertising materials, but they also do what? They kiss babies! They press the flesh. You don’t even need to kiss babies, but you do need to make an effort to meet people and put your brochure directly in their hands.

Whatever you do, don‚’t do it halfway. Make a commitment, create a written plan and think of networking with a marketing mindset. Then review your plan quarterly and fine tune as necessary. If you determine your plan isn‚’t working at any point, feel free to mix it up and possibly try different networking groups. But whatever you do, don’t fool yourself into believing that you already network just because you talk to people every once in a while.

Remember that feeling we talked about in the opening of this article? That wonderful feeling of business that comes out of thin air, from just one conversation? Well, now imagine a steady stream of those warm leads coming your way. It’s possible, as long as you make the commitment to networking.