Networking is a great way for business owners to grow their connections, but it has become the Marmite of marketing. Here are my top tips for extracting its benefits, so that at the very yeast (#sorrynotsorry) it’s a good use of your time.
Once a buzzword for business owners – the equivalent of social media today – networking offers the potential to meet new people and grow your business, yet these days it’s a marketing technique often left on the shelf.
Networking has become marketing Marmite – you either love it or hate it! Some business owners view it as an essential way to establish mutually beneficial relationships, many find it awkward and some dare we say, find it boring.
In certain circles networking has gained a bad reputation. Some business owners are put off by attending for fear of being sold to, yet others complain “there’s no one in the room” who wants to buy from them.
Well, guess what? I can guarantee no-one has ever attended a networking event with the sole purpose of buying something. That said, it doesn’t mean they won’t.
“To benefit from networking, you need to shift your perspective from selling in the room to selling through the room.”
While the person you are speaking to may not be your typical customer, their partner, other family members, friends or colleagues might. Or they could know someone now or in the future who could help your business in some way.
I guess some people will never get it, but this can work to your advantage. If you are at an event with people like this then use the opportunity to shine and show everyone else, you understand the true value of networking.
Online versus face-to-face networking
While social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, offer an easy way for business owners to identify prospects and reach out day or night from the comfort of their desk, I prefer when possible to meet face-to-face every time.
Of course, there is a place for networking online as it gives you the opportunity to widen your circle and reach out to people you’re physically unlikely to meet and it can offer those of us working alone a virtual support network.
The power of relationships though comes from genuine connections and in my opinion, it is harder to be a fake in person than it is online. That said, online networking and face-to-face networking can work together.
The problem with face-to-face networking
Somewhere down the line networking gained an unhealthy reputation for being a bit icky – awkward, often salesy, boring and a waste of business owners’ time. How did this happen? People! One bad apple spoils the barrel and all that.
As in life, if you’ve ever had a bad experience networking it sticks.
I remember one event where a guy barged into a group conversation and proceeded to put his book into my hand and asked me to buy it! Funnily enough, I didn’t buy it and the group awkwardly dispersed for fear of being targeted next.
There is a misconception that the business goal when networking is to increase the number of professional contacts we have so to help us further our careers, and here lies the problem. While increasing our contacts is never a bad thing, quality must prevail.
Having an impressive quantity of connections or followers on LinkedIn and Twitter might signal our popularity or influence on the surface, but how many of those contacts will help you achieve your business vision and could be called upon if needed?
The same goes for networking face-to-face. If you attend an event with the sole purpose of selling to people or your decision to talk to people is based purely on whether they may be able to help further your career, then you are a bad apple!
To take the pressure off yourself and get value from networking events, you need to understand you are not competing in a popularity contest. It is not about who can collect the most business cards - it is about building relationships.
The benefits of face-to-face networking
When we focus on building quality contacts over quantity, we have a much better chance of building meaningful relationships. And, it is the meaningful bit that matters when it comes to networking.
The more connected you are with people, the stronger your relationships and friendships will be. Surrounding yourself with positive people that share a similar drive and ambition will help you and your business to grow.
Use networking events as an opportunity for sharing ideas and knowledge. Whether you are asking for feedback or discussing your point of view, it will help expand your knowledge and help you to see things from another point of view.
Just attending these events is a good way to get noticed. Even if you are naturally somewhat of a wallflower, by regularly attending business and social events, people will start to recognise you and the conversations will get easier.
Networking can help you to build your reputation as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person by offering information or tips to people who need it. This way you are more likely to get leads and referrals when they need what you offer.
If you're particularly interested in growing leads and referrals, I recommend you read Ryan Robinson's blog post the "ultimate guide to business networking (to grow your sales pipeline)".
People often find networking and talking about themselves awkward or false. The best advice? Be yourself and ask questions. By regularly attending and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone your confidence will increase.
It's actually rather simple to make a good first impression, and we all know first impressions count. If you get stuck knowing what to say when networking then read "Do these 5 emotionally intelligent things within 5 minutes of meeting someone."
5 things to do before attending a networking event:
Research the organiser and their approach. Follow the event or organiser on social media, are they friendly and collaborative?
Find out the event structure. Is there an opportunity to learn gain insight from speakers and learn something other than just network?
Make advance connections. Find out who is talking about or attending the event and connect with them online, introduce yourself in advance.
Plan. Decide what you want to get from the event and go prepared. Take a notepad a pen, your diary, business cards, flyers etc.
Be prepared. Eliminate stress by knowing in advance where and how to get to the venue and what the parking arrangements are.
5 things to avoid being a networking donut:
Do not sell. Nobody ever went to a networking event with the sole intention of buying something. Do not ask for the sale!
Do not preach. Do not grab people’s attention by awkwardly forcing yourself (or your book!) into a conversation.
Do not focus on yourself. A conversation is a two-way street, do not focus on how you or your business is the best thing since sliced bread.
Do not trump. I do not mean do not pass wind, although you may want to avoid that too, I mean do not try and outdo someone else.
Do not fake it. Leave the bravado at the door, no one likes a Billy Big time. Do not be brash, overbearing or lie.
5 things to do to become networking pro:
Do tell, don’t sell! Talk to people who you connect with on a personal level, find a common interest in food, travel or the opportunity to learn.
Do be helpful. Shift your focus from what can they do or buy from me, to what can I do to help them. This must be genuine not quid pro quo.
Do ask easy questions. Be proactive and then listen to the replies. Find out why they are there and who they want to meet.
Do be selective. Wait until someone asks for your business card. Those that do ask are much more likely to follow up on the conversation.
Do follow up. Networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. Connect with people online and arrange to meet for coffee.
So, whether you believe in networking’s powerful flavour or find it a bit icky hopefully, this post has encouraged you to experience it or give it another chance – be a lover, not a hater!
What's your best networking tip? I'd love to know so please tell me in the comments below.
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