When you start your own business, one of the first things you need to do is to start promoting it and finding customers?
Depending on the type of business you are in, one age-old and sure-fire way to build relationships is through networking. However, if you are to enjoy the full rewards of networking you need to know what you are doing.
7 Networking No-Nos
Business is all about relationships because ultimately people buy from people. Your customers need to feel they know you, who are you, what is important to you, what your values are and why.
Your website and social media have their place in creating a loyal following, especially if you put across your personality, communicate relevant, interesting and topical news in an engaging way. However, networking is an ideal method for your potential customers to really get to know you and what you and your business is all about.
But there are good and bad ways to approach networking. And trust me, I have discovered all the bad ways!
So to help make sure you don’t waste your time and make the same mistakes I did, here are seven networking howlers you really need to avoid.
Mistake 1. Underselling yourself
When you first attend networking meetings, it can be tempting to apologise, divulge that it is your first time of doing anything like this and that you are really nervous.
Perhaps you decide to not even stand up and give your pitch? Does that create an impression of someone who is confident, know what they are doing, someone credible that you can trust and do business with, or someone you would steer clear of?
You know what you do and what your business is all about (which I presume you do?!), so “act as if” – as if you are feeling confident, as though you have done this lots of times, and pretend networking is something you love!
They won’t notice your fears, you will come across in a more positive, credible and approachable manner, and in time you may even start to enjoy it!
Mistake 2. Winging your pitch
Rambling on, mumbling and not quite getting to the point is never going to cut it.
You will always come across networkers who boast that they never plan their pitch, they just say what comes into their head. If you have been doing it for years that may be the case, but if you want to be effective, then my advice is to plan your pitch.
This is not about getting your pitch word perfect or following a script, this is about putting across in a structured timely fashion your passion for what you do because that is what people connect to.
Start with a question (rhetorical or otherwise), perhaps make a relevant joke to break the ice and get the audience onside, address a need or problem your audience may have and how you can solve it, tell a personal story of how what you do has made a difference to your life or someone else’s, share a testimonial… these are all useful ways to ensure you and your pitch are memorable.
Consider what you want your audience to think, do or feel as a result of listening to your pitch. Tailor it to the audience and leave them curious and wanting to know more! And make sure you speak within the allocated time!
Mistake 3. Being pushy
When you first start out in business you are often passionate about what you do which is great, but there is a fine line between expressing your well-intentioned passion for what you do and coming across as pushy and aggressive.
Passion connects you to people, forcefulness leads to them avoiding you! Do share your authentic, genuine, passion but not in an evangelical, desperate, on a mission to save the whole world manner!
Mistake 4. Network, network, network…
It is important to attend lots of networking meetings when you first start out to discover which ones are right for you. However, it is all too easy to end up spending all your time networking and not having any time left to actually work on your business and follow up with all the leads you have generated from networking!
By knowing exactly who your ideal customers are and where they hang out, you can be choosy and only attend those networking events that are effective and get results.
To build relationships and trust you do need to be consistent and go regularly to the ones you decide on, but it’s all about quality not quantity. So do network, network, network…. but within reason and purposefully!
Mistake 5. Take, take, take…
Hand your business card to everyone you meet whether you have been asked for it or not, and then bombard them with sales emails because networking is all about what you can get out of it right? Wrong!
The most effective networkers are those who are interested in others. They find out about the other person, they ask questions, they listen, they offer help, support, advice and solutions.
Be an indispensable “go-to” person, a connector – someone who knows everyone else and what they do so you can cross-refer. For more on how to do this read, The best way to make business networking work for you.
Mistake 6. Not following up
You connected with other business people, you had interesting conversations, you exchanged business cards, and then….. didn’t hear from them again! What a waste of networking!
Take responsibility for your business – it is down to you to contact them – ideally the same day or day after you connected, stating how much you enjoyed meeting them, sharing something you spoke about so they remember you, and offering help and support to them.
And remember, connections are made at the networking event, relationships are built outside of it.
Mistake 7. Giving up
You come to the decision networking does not work, or just is not working for you. You are not getting any customers, perhaps you even realise all the mistakes you have made, so you just give up through frustration, disappointment, even embarrassment.
Well if you do not want to make a success of your business, then yes you do! However, being self-employed is a rollercoaster journey of self-development and discovery.
It is about uncovering who you really are, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, coping with the ups and downs, of which there will be many, and then picking yourself up, brushing yourself down, learning the lessons and carrying on stronger than before.
It is about having conviction in what you are doing, and keeping going regardless, adapting your approach, doing something different each time and finding out what does and doesn’t work.
That is what will define you and your business, make you stand out, and will lead to success.
Running a business is challenging, yet also exciting and rewarding, and networking is a useful tool in which to build your customer base and support network.
So get out there, be confident, be visible, be passionate for what you do, be purposeful, be helpful, build connections, and above all, enjoy the self-employment journey and the freedom and flexibility that brings!
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Suzi Fish of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. With 300+ clubs in the UK and Ireland find your local club at www.toastmasters.org