I was one of the early adopters of telephone conferencing and webinars. They are so easy to do and work so well to get people from far and wide together to talk about a particular subject or to learn about a particular topic. I knew these tools would be great for trimming travel costs and keeping in touch with clients, prospects and employees. They are great technologies, and we use them a lot even today. I love leading webinars and participating in them. They are a great way to share and to pick up knowledge in a quick and easy way without ever leaving your home or office.
But there is just no way to replace a face-to-face meeting or a group networking event. When people with common interests get together to visit and talk shop, so many great things happen. Networking events usually take place away from the office or the store where you tend to have your mind a little more open and you are certainly less distracted by all the usual business activities. If you spend a little time talking to someone you know or someone you are just meeting for the first time, you find out all sorts of interesting things you might not have thought to ask about on a conference call.
Now, take that networking event to someplace interesting and attractive and you have a whole other level of interactions. This is why the self-storage meetings in Las Vegas are so successful. People like to go there for the experience and excitement of being in Las Vegas. You take that excitement and multiply it by all the self-storage knowledge in the conference, and some very interesting conversations happen. The sessions and seminars are always valuable. They serve as reminders of things you know you should be doing. They serve as validation for things you have been doing, and they give you some good ideas to go home and work on. But some of the best conversations happen while walking through the hallways, getting coffee during a break, waiting for an event to start, or eating in one of the restaurants.
I tell our PhoneSmart representatives who attend trade shows that the first rule is to walk slowly through the hallways so you do not miss any opportunities to say hello to someone.
I have attended the SSA Ski Workshop several times, and it is a great learning and networking event. It is always held in the winter someplace wonderful, so attendees get the full ski lodge experience. People talk openly about all kinds of issues they are having. People share their success stories willingly. You have a chance to get to know people over several days, so you can continue the interesting conversations you started. If the weather cooperates, you get to do some wonderful outdoor activities.
How can you take advantage of great networking opportunities? Your local chamber of commerce, civic clubs and alumni groups all have networking events where you can go to learn about how people in your trade area are handling their issues of de-cluttering, organizing, remodeling and office filing. Talking to people about how they handle these issues is a great way to learn how to make your storage place more relevant. It also tells you how to talk to people about storage so the conversation is more about what will help them live a better and more organized life, rather than the conversation being about how clean your storage place is. Networking to learn more about consumers in your area is a great use of time. You will find people who never knew what storage was all about or that your business existed. You will get a few new renters here and there, and will build some very good word-of-mouth.
Rules for Successfuly Networking
Walk slowly during the event. This tells people you are not in a hurry, so they feel comfortable approaching you. It allows you to be available as people walk by you. Then you can stop them and say hello.
Greet people. If anyone gets within three yards of you, say “Hello” and they will respond in kind. A conversation has begun!
Comment on people’s name tags. Most event name tags have name, company name and city on them. It is easy to ask “I see you work for WYX. What does WYX do?” or “You are from Memphis? My cousin lived there years ago. What a great town.” Find a personal tie-in to their city. Or say, “That is a neat name, how do you pronounce it?” Any of these are great ways to start a conversation.
Introduce yourself. Just say, “Hi, my name is ______. What is yours?” There is no easier way to start off a conversation.
Ask about their businesses. Ask people to tell you about their businesses, their positions in the company, their challenges and their current successes.
Know how you will introduce yourself and tell the story of your company in a minute or two, so that you might get asked some follow up questions, too. Practice your quick introduction so it flows smoothly.
Collect contact information for follow-up contacts. Be sure to exchange contact information and remember to follow through.
Seven rules are enough. You can take these and be successful at any event. Now you need to find some events to go to in order to practice. You may be a little awkward or shy at first. Most people feel a little awkward or shy at an event full of strangers. Just relax, walk slowly and talk to everyone you can. Oh, there is an eighth rule: wear comfortable shoes. It is hard to be interested and interesting when your feet are killing you from wearing the wrong shoes while standing around, milling around and walking around.
We love networking events so much at PhoneSmart that we created our own. It is the PhoneSmart Hawaii Un-Conference. In June, 2009, we got together with about 40 self- storage people on the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii and spent several days doing moderated sessions, hearing from industry leaders and talking about all things storage. The sessions, discussions and morning programs have been credited for many profitable implementations by the Un-Conference attendees. The sponsors developed long-term relationships that led to an increase of business and an increase of market dominance. The innovations and initiatives hatched from the Un-Conference conversations and connections helped 2009 attendees survive and prosper through this down economic cycle. Another interesting thing happened: a group had been started. There is something special in the air when the Hawaii Un-conference attendees see each other at another event. There seems to be a secret they share, an energy only they can tap, a special kinship.
Each afternoon, we participated in leisure activities such as snorkeling. We had two evening receptions where everyone could gather and continue the conversations form the day.
This year, we are hosting another gathering from June 7-11, 2011. If you are a store manager, a supervisor or regional manager, or an owner and investor, you will be sure to derive many benefits from the sessions and conversations.
We are holding a contest to give away a free trip with full conference registration included. The winner will receive FREE the entire conference registration and add-ons, five free nights at the Mauna Lani Resort and free airfare for two from the continental U.S. Stop by the PhoneSmart booth at the next self-storage trade show where PhoneSmart is exhibiting and enter the drawing. You just may be coming to this awesome un-conference for FREE. Drawings will take place on or about April 15, 2011. Do not wait to register. Registered attendees are eligible. Register for the Un-Conference now and enter the drawing, too.
Tron Jordheim is the PhoneSmart, Hawaii, Un-Conference Leader and Director of the PhoneSmart Call Center.