No matter what business problem you have to solve right now, there’s a powerful way of finding the answer quickly and efficiently… and it’s called networking.
That’s a word that makes many people’s hearts beat faster. The idea of getting out to events and meeting a bunch of strangers is not something that seems natural!
Yet networking is a powerful marketing and business tool.
What do you need to achieve right now? Got to find new customers? Great – they’re already out there at events, you just have to go and meet them. Need to find a new supplier that you can build a good relationship with? They’re also out there… and are going networking so they can meet you!
In reality, networking is nothing to be scared of. Many of the people you meet at networking events will feel the same way you do.
It’s not unusual even for experienced networkers to feel that familiar sick feeling before entering an event. That’s because networking is all about meeting people you have never met before. Just remember that everyone is in the same boat and you will get on just fine.
The first rule of networking is to make sure you are meeting the right people. If your products or services are bought only by software developers, there may be no point attending local events. But there may be IT events in major cities that could be worth attending. You need to go where the audience is.
When you’ve found the right events, there are a number of secrets used by professionals to build powerful networks of relationships and turn them into significant sales.
These are primarily aimed at “real life” networking rather than online. Here are the top five secrets:
1. Be a farmer not a hunter
The first time you go networking it might seem that you should enter the room as a hunter. Dart round from person to person; discard those who are no use to you; hunt down your prey… then go for the kill (aka the sale).
But you actually get more out of networking by being a farmer. This means planting the seeds of relationships and waiting for them to grow.
Don’t try to sell to the room. Instead try to build a network of people who will do the selling for you. It’s OK to get on well with someone who isn’t a potential customer. While they won’t buy from you; they might be able to recommend you to someone in their network, who you would otherwise never have met.
You can grow your network faster by helping generate business for the people you meet. There’s an unwritten rule that says if you help generate some business for someone, they will want to return the favour.
2. Be clear what you want
Because networking events can be overwhelming, especially the busy ones, you need to go into them totally clear about what you want to get out. Everything you do can then be geared towards this result.
For example you need to prepare a very clear “elevator pitch”. This is 20 to 30 seconds of you talking where you tell someone about your business and what you are looking for. It’s called an elevator pitch, as it’s based on how long you would have to sell your good idea if you found yourself in a lift with a potential investor.
You also need plenty of business cards that will help people remember you. It’s not a bad idea to put your photo on cards. Also make sure there is a description on the back of what your business does and the kind of business you are looking for. This is especially important if your business has a generic name such as “P Green and sons”.
3. Follow the rules of the room
Real life networking has a number of clear rules that you must follow. Think of them as networking etiquette. Luckily they are based on common sense, so easy to remember.
You should dress appropriately for the event. That typically means a suit for business events. If in doubt dress smart and take your tie off later.
The thing that worries people the most is knowing how to start or end conversations. The secret is to look at how groups of people are interacting with each other.
If you see someone on their own, go and rescue them by starting a chat with them. Two or more people facing each other deep in conversation will not appreciate being interrupted by you.
But if those people are speaking in a group which has a “hole” for another person to join… plus one or more members makes eye contact with you while you are passing, you will be welcomed into that little discussion.
When you have had enough, it’s OK to thank someone for their chat, hand over a business card, and say you are going to do some more networking. You are there to meet people, not get stuck with someone boring, right?
The best compliment you can pay someone is to shut up and listen to what they have to say. As a farmer, being interested in someone is a smart way to get to know them.
Ask sensible questions about them and their business and remember what you have been told. Don’t worry too much if they don’t ask a lot about you… they are much more likely to remember you for your interest in them, than if you spend your time trying to force your business history down their throat.
When you do talk, don’t forget to be interesting. Remember that no-one is as interested in your business as you are. It’s always better to look at things from other people’s point of view. And remember to keep eye contact.
If you find yourself distracted by other people in the room, it’s time to move on, before you appear to be rude.
5. Follow up
Networking doesn’t end when the event is over. As a farmer trying to grow a network that’s just the start.
Get into the habit of making notes on business cards to remind you of people you have met, and follow them up after the event. This could be as simple as an email or letter thanking them for an interesting conversation. Avoid the temptation to stuff sales literature and offers at them. Remember you are farming not hunting.
Keep a database of people you have met and see if you can get their permission to put them on your email newsletter list.
More on networking
These other guides will also help you to get the most out of networking;
- Want to get more out of your networking than passable plonk and the occasional first-class canapé? Here’s how to build a strong, powerful, strategic network
- How to create business cards that make a big impression
- The “Magic 10” Tips on networking – how the experts build great networks
- The best way to make business networking work for you
Social media can also be a great way for you to make contacts and spread the word about your business. You’ll find great tips to doing this here;