If you want to infuse your company with new business, you have to act like a farmer, not a hunter, according to Entrepreneur.com contributor Ivan Misner, co-author of Networking Like a Pro.
"Networking is about farming for new contacts, not hunting them," Misner says. "It's a point that needs to be made, because most business professionals go about networking the way our cave-dwelling ancestors did when hunting for food -- aggressively and carrying a big stick … 'Farmers' take a different approach. Like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, fine, but it's not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on -- much richer than the hunter's quick kill -- and that truly profitable relationships can't be rushed."
To acquire business like a farmer, cultivate information. One way to do so, according to Misner, is by offering free professional advice.
"Let's say you're a real estate agent talking with someone at a networking event who, although not ready to buy a home today, is heading in that direction," he explains. "You could say something like this: 'I know you're not interested in buying a home right now, but when you're ready to start looking, I'd highly recommend checking out the north part of town. A lot of my clients are seeing their homes appreciate in the 10 to 20 percent range, and from what I understand, the city's thinking about building another middle school in that area' … A statement like this acknowledges that your prospect isn't currently in the market but still demonstrates your expertise so he'll remember and perhaps contact you when he's ready to move."
The same model can work for practically anyone in a service-based industry, according to Misner.
"Few people will sign up with you if they're not sure you can do the job -- and in the absence of a tangible product, you have nothing but your technical expertise to demonstrate that you have the goods," he continues. "Don't go overboard -- just give them a little something useful. Not only will this open up a conversation with the person, but if you play your cards right, whom do you think they'll go to when they're in need of your kind of service? When it comes to building rapport and creating trust, nothing does it better than solid, helpful information provided out of a genuine concern for the other person."