Inviting Visitors

 
Inviting Visitors

An area which can also cause concern and trepidation is the inviting of visitors. Visitors are the lifeblood of a networking group. Many go so far as to say that the meeting is for visitors as the members take care of the networking in recons and referrals. Without regular visitors, a Chapter festers and dies. Even if you have a Chapter of 40 members, you should always have visitors, in fact even more so.

Many members forget they were once asked to come to as a visitor to their networking group. I will thank Richard Prosser to my dying day for introducing me to my first. Richard was my bank manager in the UK, and in January 2000, just one day after I fell into business, he was assigned to me as my account manager for my new business bank account. He had been to the meeting only once before, but he could see the potential it offered businesses, so he invited me.

Thank you, Richard!

Sometimes you might feel awkward and uneasy about inviting someone to come to the meeting. The problem with business networking, that when you talk to someone else, you often end up sounding like a multi-level marketing recruiter, or a religious fanatic. There is a fine balance in what you tell people to gain their interest and what you don’t tell them that can put them off.

So let’s start with the don'ts:

Don’t tell them they can join; they may not be able to. They can ask to be considered for membership, but membership is a privilege not a right
Don’t try to explain what they will get from the meeting. Everyone gets something completely different from the same meeting.
Don’t try to explain all the steps of the agenda, let them see for themselves. Just say that the meeting is structured to allow active networking.
Don’t try to tell them they will love it; they might not.
Don’t promise they will get loads of referrals; they will not.
Don’t tell them they have to speak, tell them they have the opportunity, should they wish to, to tell the group about their business to try to find referrals.
Don’t be surprised if they don’t say yes, the first time you ask them.
Look at the facts. Get up two hours earlier, go to a meeting where they know no one, stand up and present their business to these strangers, sit through 30 or so other speeches, and then go to work. On paper, it sounds a little daunting to those who have never experienced the vibrancy, activity and buzz a networking meeting can generate.

I know this sounds negative but try not to tell them too much about the meeting. This is not to be secretive; it is so they can come, experience it in their way, and make up their minds.

Some things you must do.

Do tell them the time and place.
Do tell them that if they are invited to join, that there are a regular commitment and an expectation they will be an active member.
Do tell them how much the first meeting will cost.
Do ask them to bring 50 business cards to pass around the table.
Do ask them to take something to write on (and with).
Do say that they have the right to speak, but they don’t have to, the choice is theirs.
Do tell them you will meet them there, and you get there early, they will.
Do call them the day before to confirm their attendance.
The thing people find the hardest when inviting a visitor is not to tell them too much.

If you colour their perception with your own, you may give them a false impression of the meeting, and this may prevent them from attending as they will think it is not their sort of thing.

How do you go about inviting visitors?
There are two methods. Firstly by passive means, and secondly active inviting.

You can passively invite people in many ways. Having a paragraph on your email stationary noting your membership, and inviting people to visit the group website and the group for more information is an easy unforceful way. You will be surprised how many emails you will receive asking for more information. Once the person has asked about the meeting, don’t waste time having a long discussion about the pros and cons of the group, just invite them to the next meeting.

Another good passive method is to have posters or leaflets about your networking group in your reception area or office. When people see something, they will ask about it, and the dialogue will start. They are discovering something new and interesting, people, like that.

The first contact methods of inviting are always active. When I am with a customer, I give them a speech about the history of my company, including my involvement in business networking and how it has helped me to build a strong and successful business (in two countries), using referrals and ‘word of mouth marketing’. This interests person, especially when I tell them the truthful story that I chose where I was going to live when I moved to New Zealand based on the membership availability in the local networking groups.

I used to carry my networking folder and make sure I put it on the desk, where the person I am visiting could see it. With the advent of digital communication and referral passing software like refur.com, the need for the cardholder has diminished when passing referrals, and I have found an interesting anecdote works well to get people interested.

When I tell people about my activity in business networking I always finishing with the simple line, ‘you should come to our next meeting, you may enjoy it’.

There is no hard sell; there is no deep explanation of the ethics and history of the group, just a simple ‘you may enjoy it’. I then tell them about the early morning start and the commitment, and say ‘don’t let that put you off, come once and see what you think, after all, you had nothing else but sleeping planned for Tuesday morning, and you never know’.

As with all aspects of networking, you should set yourself a target for inviting visitors. I would suggest, that if you aim to get one visitor every month to the Chapter, you will be doing very well if you achieve this. But remember the rule of thirds. You will probably have to invite at least nine people to get one to attend the meeting. It seems disheartening, but those are the general results of years of experience.

You will need to develop your style and methods of inviting people. Just remember, the more people you invite, the more will come. The more visitors you can get, the better your group becomes.