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Are you a pro networker?

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Segall is a marketing svengali and a demon networker to boot. He recently addressed a roomful of 120 SMEs at an event on Networking 2.0. Here’s what he told them.

"Hands up if you like cold-calling," he began.

The silence was deafening.

"Hands up if you like networking."

A few raised their hands timidly.

"Well, if a recent CBI survey showed that 47 per cent of business is done through networking and word of mouth, and that 43 per cent is done through cold calling, you’re all missing out aren’t you?"

Well, that broke the ice.

Segall has a theory why most people find networking so terrifying. "I want you all to stand up and close your eyes," he told the audience. "Now, imagine that you’re five years old. You’re holding your mother’s hand and looking down the road. You’re about to go down to the local sweet shop. Then, your mother leans down and whispers something in your ear.

"Got that” Open your eyes and sit down."

When Segall asked the assembled entrepreneurs what their imaginary mothers had whispered to them, the response was nearly unanimous: don’t speak to strangers.

"We’re conditioned from the age of five to avoid talking to people we don’t know," he says. "That’s a lot of programming to overcome."

Nevertheless, networking is one of the most important business tools in an entrepreneur’s possession. And never more so than in a recession. But how can a novice take advantage of this weapon?

"The golden rule of networking is that people do business with people that they know, like, trust and respect," states Segall. "You can create these relationships face to face, or online via social networks."

An obvious starting point is to attend networking events regularly. Become a familiar face. Make friends. But, whatever you do, advises Segall, don’t try the hard sell.

"All of us like buying but none of us like being sold to," he says. "So start with building relationships, then worry about the sales."

But just how useful are these events” Chances are, they’re more useful that you think.

"How many of you have piles of business cards sitting on your desks?" asks Segall. "You’re all laughing so quite a few, I’d guess. You have to follow up on events. It’s no good starting a great conversation and then letting the opportunity slip away.

"Buy a business card scanner," he continues. "It’ll be the best investment you ever make. It takes seven seconds to scan a card and then you have all their details in your Outlook. You can ping them an email or give them a call."

A handy hint. But what do you say?

"Never send spam and never start an email, ‘Dear fellow networker’," says Segall. A clever way to come up with a good opener is to make a note of who the person is and what you talked about on the back of their card. Then you can send them a personalised message."

And, if you’re smart, you won’t have made the rookie mistake of only talking about football or that new comedy show. "Be sure of what you want to achieve every time you go to an event. Otherwise you’ll end up chatting to the waiter or drinking by yourself at the bar."

But, for the uber-shy amongst you, there is another way.

"Take advantage of social media," says Segall. "Anyone can be a blogger or use Twitter and Facebook."

In fact, social networking can have the edge on face-to-face: "You can address your entire target audience at the same time," explains Segall. "Simply type in your target demographic in the search bo – electricians, for example – and there you have it! A whole list of prospective consumers."

It’s also handy to become part of online communities. "Did you know that Ecademy members sometimes pitch together for large contracts?" asks Segall. "You get 15 companies all working together to bring in the business."

And then there’s blogging. "This is not to be confused with flogging," says Segall. "The point is to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. Your blog must add value."

Having an online presence can work for and against you: bad news travels just as fast as good, so flauting the rules of the blogosphere could come back to haunt you.

"High visibility and high credibility makes you an expert," says Segall. "One without the other is useless. High visibility without high credibility makes you the 21st century equivalent of the village idiot."

If all this sounds like a whole mess of rules and pitfalls, Segall has one last tip. If you really want to be a good networker, no matter what the media, just stick to one mission and you’ll be fine.

"Help other people and other people will help you."

Related article Why is everyone going cuckoo for Twitter” How to use social networking Out of the credit crunch, great advertising campaigns Top ten networking tips

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