Are you loyally showing up to your favourite networking meetings and events, but not getting anything more than friendship and advice out of it?
Those things are essential in business, but let’s be honest, that’s not why you joined the group and not your main objective for going, is it? From our local research business owners attend networking events for a variety of reasons including social interaction, finding trusted advisers and seeking trusted suppliers, however the core reason most often comes back to lead generation.
If you want to be successful at networking, I have some tips for you. I’ll start with the main one being:
Clarify why you are networking
The most important thing to do before you even get to the meeting, is set your objectives and plan a strategy, just like you would with product or service development before you start promoting it.
Consider how you would measure the meeting as a good use of your time or valuable for your business.
Are you going for advice? Is it because you’re a solopreneur and want to find a supportive community?
But why else are you going? To promote your business or a new product, find suppliers, get referrals?
How many new contacts do you want to collect and why? How many 1-2-1’s do you want to get from it? How many follow up phone calls or LinkedIn connections do you want to make?
Having the numbers clear in your head will help you assess the success of the meeting. Keep a note of how it goes each time, and you can determine whether it’s the right group for you or not.
Here are some more things to consider that should help your networking be more successful.
Who’s in the room?
Some groups publish the attendees list before you go, others promote the event on LinkedIn. Both scenarios give you the opportunity to find out who will be there and who you want to make a connection with. Once again, are they potential referral partners, customers, suppliers, or advisors?
If the guest list isn’t published, you could try asking on social media who you’ll get to meet. This can work very well if you tag the group or hosts, and it helps warm up the conversation before you’re even in the room.
Can you contact your proposed connections beforehand? Introduce yourself and say you’re looking forward to meeting them. That breaks the ice and lets them know to expect you, they may even act as an introducer to the rest of the group.
Can you find opportunities for others in the room? Look to be viewed as a giver, a collaborator not a taker or those I refer to as ‘card spillers’ who sell to the room and leave.
Don’t be a hunter
No one wants to be a target. You may be full of enthusiasm for your business, but you may alienate yourself if you use pushy or relentless sales tactics. Something to bear in mind is this, farm the field and good things will grow, hunt your targets and they’ll run away.
Have some ice-breakers ready
Awkward silence? Have some ice-breakers ready to kick start the conversation: ‘What do you do’ is a classic, but can elicit the response, ‘I’m an accountant’, which doesn’t give you much to go on, so follow it up with tell me more about that, what kind of clients do you prefer to work with, or even, is that your true passion in life? Some attendees might be nervous and will appreciate someone else taking the lead in the conversation.
Another reason to take the lead is that you will often find out information that you can relate to when you tell them about your business e.g. similar client base, demographic.
Prepare and rehearse
There are certain times in networking when you will need to be able to pull out a well-practised speech of some kind. A 30/45/60 second pitch, your ideal client profile, your value proposition. Have these clear in your head, and no-one minds if you read from notes!
Exchange contact details and make yourself available
Business cards seem to be less popular these days but connect on LinkedIn there and then if you don’t have one, and if you say you will be in touch, get in touch. If you say you’d like a 1-2-1, make that appointment during or shortly after the meeting, and always ask if you can write on their business card if you do get one. It helps the next part of the conversation if you have noted where and when you met someone…
The adage goes, people buy from people, so be yourself and that will attract others to you. Once you have built a relationship on knowing and liking someone, they are more likely to begin to trust you and pass referrals.
Build relationships first, sell later
It can be tempting to make a bee line for your next best customer and tell them all your features and benefits, but if they don’t know you, they will be put off talking to you. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen, learn and begin to know and understand a fellow networker to build a relationship before delivering a sales pitch.
Once you’ve found your group, show up and be consistent. A consistent presence isn’t just about being there every time, it’s also about communicating the same values, messaging and personality each time. An old marketing rule from the 1930s is The Rule of Seven. Meaning someone needs to hear the same message seven times before it sinks in. With so much more digital media in our lives these days, that rule must have more than doubled!
As I’ve said many times before, success is what you make of it. Define your goals, take action and be consistent and you are most likely to succeed at networking as you have in other areas of your business.
Need a pep talk from an experienced networker? I run The Oxford Business Community Network with my colleague Ben Thompson, for entrepreneurs just like you. If you’d like a chat about networking with us in Oxfordshire, or anywhere else, get in touch with me and have a free mentor consultation to work on your networking objectives and a powerful 60 seconds.
OBCN do not lock out competitors, we do not hold performance records on our members, and we offer a range of networking events providing a choice for your networking, including breakfast meetings, supper club, speed networking and round table events.
Come along as a visitor to dip your toe in the water or find out more by clicking the link above.
All the best – Mike