Add power to your networking

Joel Goldstein, of MFV Expositions, highlights the importance of networking ahead of the sixth annual Franchise Expo South (FES); a leading franchise event serving the South East United States, Caribbean and Latin America markets

Thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners will gather at the Miami Beach Convention Center, from January 20 to 22, for Franchise Expo South, one of the most comprehensive learning experiences and networking events in franchising.

This annual event, sponsored by the International Franchise Association (IFA), attracts some of the top franchisors in the industry. Exhibitors have the unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with thousands of prospects that are looking to start or grow their businesses with an established or emerging brand. As competition in the franchising industry continues to increase and more franchisors look to grow domestically and globally, the power of networking has never been more important in helping to differentiate your concept and attract a pipeline full of qualified leads.

“When exhibiting at Franchise Expo South last year, we realised our future growth is in international development,” says Jimmer Bolden, Director of Franchise Development for Robek’s Franchise Corporation. “We experienced really great traffic to our booth and had quality conversations with many serious candidates.”

In franchising, networking done correctly helps build strong connections with prospects in order to move them towards signing a commitment. There are plenty of opportunities to network at any exhibition, but you have to be sure to take advantage of them. One of the most critical components of networking successfully is to be proactive. Research an exhibition in advance and identify different events, on the exhibition floor and beyond, that may serve as great networking opportunities.

“In the past, I was unsure about exhibiting at Franchise Expo South, but in 2010 when we exhibited for the first time, we awarded a new franchise,” said Jim Steger, Director of Franchising for KLA Schools. “The show is now an integral part of our development plans. You just can’t acquire leads like this by any other means.”

When networking, use everyday conversation to establish a relationship for the first time. Avoid jumping right into your sales pitch and instead ask a few basic questions – not necessarily related to franchising – to learn about a potential candidate. Look to make a connection through a mutual friend, colleague or experience and then enquire about what the candidate hopes to accomplish at the exhibition before leading into a discussion about their future business goals.

Make sure you prepare and practice, using your brand’s main message points before you ever arrive on site, so you can effectively communicate the benefits and unique aspects of your concept to others. Determine what elements about your brand will help capture an audience’s attention quickly.

Most people think of networking as reaching out to new people, but don’t forget about the network that you already have in place. Prior to any exhibition, connect with your current contacts to determine if they will also be attending the show. If so, send them a complimentary ticket and arrange to meet for coffee or lunch.

After meeting with a prospect and exchanging business cards, jot down a few brief notes about the conversation on the back of the card. It’s almost impossible to remember every single conversation after three days of networking. You can refer to your notes when following up to draft a more meaningful, personal letter.

As is the norm after attending an exhibition, you’re probably going to return to your office with a large stack of business cards. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to let them sit there and accumulate dust for weeks following the show. You’ve worked hard to establish these relationships, now it is time to cultivate them.

Start with an email but remember, an email is easy to send and easy to ignore. The majority of your competitors will send a follow-up email. Therefore, don’t be afraid to think outside the box or get creative in a way that is uniquely different, professional and will make an impression.

From restaurants to professional services, educational and in-home franchises, among others, exhibiting at Franchise Expo South can deliver great benefits for an established as well as emerging brand. You’ll find great success by preparing for the show in advance and taking advantage of the great networking opportunities available.