How important is networking?

A few examples: 

- Hung out with the same guy at Tuesday night Bible study for 3 years. One day he said, “I heard you tell someone you know something about computers. My company needs software for our factory. Do you know anything about that?” Turned into 50K over the next 6 months. 

- Went to an industry dinner/speaker event. The stranger next to me asked what I did. I told him. He asked if I ever did . Before I could answer, my partner joked, “That’s how we made our first million.” The stranger said, “How’d you like to make your second million?” We talked all night and started work 2 days later. 20K in 2 months. All from a joke. 

- A contractor friend got a great full time job. She asked me to “take over” her maintenance accounts (3 of them). Many thousands part time over the next 3 years. 

- Had another friend who I met for lunch once a month for years. She always talked about her job. One day, she suddenly had to move out of state for personal reasons. I emailed her employer, telling what I did (which was exactly what they had her doing). Turned into 4 years of work. 

- Met my aunt’s next door neighbor while sitting on her porch. My aunt said, “Eddie’s into computers.” He said he had a friend who owned a pawn shop with a computer running Windows that “froze” every day at 3:00, their busiest hour. He was going nuts. (Licking my chops), I said I could look into it. A 6 month gig with all new cool software (not Windows). 

- Went to a Monday Night Football party. A friend of a friend who owned a small distribution company said the bank wouldn’t lend them any more money until they computerized their inventory. After 3 months of me (for $20K), they were able to borrow $300K. Pretty good deal for everyone. 

- A friend was offered a 6 month gig in Detroit for $60/hour. He didn’t want to move to Detroit. I took it. Got an efficiency for $400/month, drove my own car there, and dialed in to my other clients. 6 months later, moved home. Not a bad deal. 

- Had another friend who owned a small software house. (Didn’t know it until I knew him for over a year). He coded everything with linked lists because he didn’t know anything about databases. I converted all his software to DBMS over a 6 month period. Again, everyone happy.

I could go on and on, but you kinda get the picture. And I haven’t even touched on the web stuff. 

The demand still far outweighs the supply for good software. If you know what you’re doing (a big assumption), there’s millions of people who need what you do. So get out there and talk to them! 

What do you talk about with prospects?

Businesses in general are not looking to buy products or services. They are looking to solve their own problems. This is NOT a discussion about your product or service. It is a discovery of the thing that bites them in the ass (that they would do just about anything to get rid of). 

As you meet people (and you need to be out there in order to do this), you’ll have to let them know what you do or have in order to get the discussion going. After that, the discussion is entirely about their problem. 

“What do you do?” 

“We have a web service that does .” 

“Interesting. We’ve never been able to .” 

“Really? Why is that?” OR 

“Really? Tell me more about that?” OR 

“Really? Then why don’t you . We’ve had a lot of success helping do that.” 

You get the idea. 

Once you help them identify and articulate their problem, one of two things will happen, either you drive the dialogue into the next step in the process or you turn and run the other way. Either way, you both win.

How should I handle a 1st customer meeting

First of all, remember that this is an INTRODUCTION, no more, no less. So take the following words out of your vocabulary right now: don’t, but, money, donations, profit, give, bring. You are there to get to know each other, that’s all. Be prepared to speak openly and honestly when asked. And be prepared to LISTEN. These are the best things you can do for him. 

I would not push anything in a first meeting, but I would be prepared to respond to any question. You don’t mention whether this introduction is over a meal - all the more reason to relax, take it easy, and enjoy. 

I would spend some time up front preparing. Mentally have a list of any possible question and your response. Also, learn something about the customer. You already have a mutual contact (your previous CEO), so you should have something interesting to talk about besides your project. Remember, he is interested in YOU as much as your work. Give him a chance to get to know you. 

Most of all, do or say something that will make him remember you, so whenever you follow up, he’ll immediately know who you are. A light discussion about the local football team or an activity one of his children is involved in may work. A hand written thank you note is always nice (Why doesn’t anyone do this much any more?) But beware: you MUST be sincere in whatever you say or do or you’ll look like a jerk and do more harm than good. 

Most of all, have a good time! And post back to let us know how it went. I, for one, will be looking for your post.