In the boom times, networking used to be a luxury. Now, it's a necessity.
We can all learn something from Barry Nicholls, owner of Paradise Jewelry in Naples. By his own estimates, Nicholls attends as many as 600 networking events per year, or about eight to 12 per week.
It doesn't matter whether they're small ribbon-cutting events or big chamber of commerce luncheons. Nicholls is easy to spot: He's the silver-haired former commercial diver with the ponytail and jewelry loupe around his neck.
It's hard to imagine that Nicholls was shy when he was a child. “If two people are standing by the side of the road changing a tire, that's a networking opportunity,” Nicholls chuckles.
Nicholls, a member of the Mensa high-IQ organization, is a master at remembering names. He knows all the waitresses by their first names at the Skillets restaurant next door to his store. “Names are so important,” he says. He always repeats the name of a new acquaintance to remember it better and mentally repeats the names of everyone sitting at the table of a networking lunch.
Nicholls says all this networking time out of his store is well spent. “It's much more powerful than advertising,” he says. “That's when you get real referrals.” Besides, he gets free publicity because hardly a week goes by without seeing Nicholls in a ribbon-cutting photo in the local newspaper.
Through such intense networking, Nicholls has built a database of 3,500 prospective customers and he's posted a record year for jewelry sales and repairs. Nicholls doesn't slow his pace in the summer. “If they don't see you for a few months, they'll forget you,” he says.
The best networking opportunities are those that take place at business gatherings after work. “It's fun and you can call it business,” Nicholls says. Besides, everyone is there with the same goal. “You don't need an excuse to start a conversation,” he says.
Once at an event, it's important for people to know what business you're in. Besides the jeweler's loupe around his neck, Nicholls carries around “pocket stock” of jewels to show off. “There's people I've known for 20 years and I don't know what they do,” he laughs.
At networking events, Nicholls is careful not to speak too long with one person. “If I bond with you for a half hour, I've missed 10 other opportunities,” he says. For example, Nicholls avoids talking about his favorite pastime. “If I talk about fishing, I won't stop talking,” he says. “I never learn very much when I'm talking.”
It's important to develop strategies to meet as many people as possible. For example, at lunch gatherings Nicholls doesn't sit down until the last minute. “Learn to disengage politely,” he says.
BARRY NICHOLLS' TIPS
• Wear a big name tag so people can read your name and business from a distance. A nametag with two magnets lets you add ribbons.
• Buy several name tags so you can leave one in your car and never forget it.
• Don't hand out flyers in “hit-and-run” style. It's annoying.
• The best spot to meet new people is by the bar or the food.
• Put your photo on your business card and use both sides to promote your business. Don't use glossy cards; people can't write on them. Nicholls prints 2,000 at a time so he'll never run out.
• Arrive early and leave late.
• Be photogenic. Your photo at an event may appear in the local newspaper.
• New-business ribbon cuttings introduce you to new prospects.
• Carry a prop that relates to your business.
• Be a good listener. People love to be asked their opinions.