When you start out as a business owner you will no doubt be advised by your peers to start going to networking events.
Many claim networking is a fail-safe strategy to win more clients. And yes, it can be. However, you need to network the right way in order for it to be effective.
I’m a huge fan of networking and have used it extensively over the years to gain more business. I have learnt a few lessons along the way!
Here’s a step by step guide to networking for business owners:
Refine your ‘elevator pitch’
When you attend a networking event, particularly if there are more than a couple of dozen people in the room, it may be structured in a way that allows everyone to formally introduce themselves. In this case, you will be given around twenty seconds to stand up and explain what you do. You need to be able to sum up how you help people in a couple of sentences and share the benefits succinctly.
Here’s a very basic sample script:
“Hi, my name is [Your Name]. I help [customer avatar] achieve [payoff for customer].”
For example, “Hi, My name is Don. I run a new business which offers counselling to people who work as teachers, carers and therapists. It gives my clients a safe space to offload and take the time to focus on how they can look after their own mental health. They find it to be a huge relief.”
The people you are speaking with may not be your target audience but at least they will clearly understand what you do.
When working on your pitch, you may wish to include a statistic. For example: “Did you know more than 70 percent of people are paying too much for their mattress?” And from there: “I’ve found a way to charge 50 per cent less than every other retailer.”
A pun or light hearted joke (so long as it is not too cringe-worthy or in any way offensive) can get a great response and make your pitch stand out amongst the rapid fire of business introductions.
Before you head to a networking event, practice your pitch several times out loud. Stand in front of a mirror or try recording yourself with a mobile. With practice, you’ll become more confident and be able to remember what you have to say without all the distracting ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that can kill your credibility.
Listen and find common ground
It’s not all about you! If you fall into the trap of rambling extensively about yourself and your business, people will stop listening. Worse still, they won’t be motivated to help you out.
Everyone at a networking event is excited to share something about their business. Make sure you ask other people about themselves and what they do, and that you focus enough to hear and understand what they are saying.
Ask your new contacts what they find challenging about being in business. At the very least, you may be able to trade some tips and problem solving strategies. You may also uncover shared goals as you chat, which may open doors for future collaboration or mutually beneficial partnerships.
It may help to jot down notes about the people you have met quickly after a networking event, particularly if you don’t attend regularly. You can use your notes to pick up where you left off the next time.
Don’t be shy
Don’t you hate that feeling when you go to a party and you don’t know anyone? Many people avoid professional networking events for the same reason.
However, networking events are created and attended by business owners who are excited to support other business owners. You needn’t be nervous about introducing yourself to people. In fact, they will be expecting you to do so.
If you’re nervous, practice your elevator pitch as I mentioned above and think of a few questions you can ask absolutely anyone, e.g.
- What do you do? How long have you been doing it for?
- What do you enjoy most about running your business?
- What’s the hardest part about running your business?
- How have you benefited from these networking events?
- Is there anyone here who has been able to help you out?
Generally, people at networking events are incredibly welcoming and friendly. Should you see someone standing alone, strike up a conversation or introduce them to the person you just met and pay the friendly vibe forward.
Refer a friend
Successful networking is a give and take arrangement. The general idea is that you can make use of the expertise of the people you meet and that they will hopefully need your help one day.
With this in mind, you need to actively start referring business to other people before they start doing the same for you. So if one of your friends mentions their garden needs work, put them in touch with the landscaper you met at a networking event.
This can quickly trigger a flow-on effect — after all, your landscaper contact has the opportunity to talk to a lot of clients and will be keen to return the favour.
Some networking organisations actively require their members to refer a certain amount of business to each other. When you join an organisation like this it requires a fair amount of work but can have excellent return on investment.
Other networking groups are more casual. It is through regular get-togethers that connections strengthen and members are able to confidently refer business to each other. Often you will find you ‘share’ referrals with one or two other people, for example an architect may generate business for a glazier and the glazier may regularly refer clients to his contact who runs a window cleaning business.
Avoid the sales pitch
When you attend a networking event, don’t do so with the idea in mind that you will come away with a dozen new clients who are ready to buy, right now.
Instead, approach networking as a way to raise awareness of your business and to build genuine connections with real people. These people may not be your clients but they do have the potential to refer you to a contact which will bring you thousands of dollars in revenue.
Having been in business for a long time, I’ve found the people who will bring you the most business are the ones who have the best understanding of who you are as an individual, not an entrepreneur. They will want to help you, not just because it may benefit them one day, but because they believe you deserve a hand.
It is easy to identify the people who are desperate and only have their own needs in mind at networking events. Don’t be that guy! Instead, approach networking as a way to meet people, be inspired and learn. Do what you can to help others and the referrals will naturally follow.
Even in the days of digital, business cards still rule at networking events. Show up with at least fifty so the people in attendance can take extra to hand to their friends. Make sure your details are up to date and your business cards are a professional reflection of your brand.
Some business owners share square-shaped or circular business cards. There are plenty of fun ways to stand out so get creative and have some fun. Beyond phone numbers and email, add information like your Twitter handle, your Calendly link and your Skype details.
One of the first things people will do if they are considering contacting you after meeting you at a networking event is to jump on your website. For this reason, even if you are a brand new business, make sure you have some type of online presence before you set off to these kinds of events.
Your LinkedIn page is also an important networking tool. Review your profile so it has a recognisable headshot and a clear description of the benefits you bring to your clients. Make sure you add details of your website and include information to help people get in touch with you. When you meet people at networking events, connect with them quickly by downloading the LinkedIn app on your phone. You never know when you will have reason to look them up in the future.
While instantly connecting with a new contact on their Facebook page may be a little too much, you can always follow their business Facebook page. Twitter and Instagram are also places where you can build your connections, depending on how much time you spend on the platforms.
Get in touch
You will likely meet a few people who you believe you can help in some way when you attend a networking event.
Don’t be afraid to drop them a line afterwards to say hello and offer your assistance. Again, a strict sales pitch isn’t necessarily the way to go. Instead offer some advice, share a video or blog and let them know you’d love to show them how they can invest in property sooner / grow their business by 25 percent / pay less tax this financial year.
Like anything, it can take a little time to get into the swing of things when you network. The practice requires patience, consistency and effort before it pays off. However, should it prove to be successful for you the payoff is being able to get to know some energetic and inspiring people. You also stand to bring in new business to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Networking events are often free or very reasonably priced, with no obligation to go more than once. Why not look up a local group and give it a go?
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