Networking is perhaps the most direct way to grow your client base and it can be an invaluable part of a broader marketing and promotional strategy. In fact, if done consistently well, it can be a self-sustaining route to having a lengthy list of happy clients and demand for your services that means you no longer need to worry about where your next client is coming from.
I’m often asked by entrepreneurs and small business owners whether networking really works. People say: ‘Is it a good investment of my time to attend one event after another?’ And, ‘Isn’t everyone just trying to flog their own product or service?’ The simple answer to both these questions is ‘yes’. Anyone you have a chance to network with at a scheduled event will in all likelihood have their own angle and their own services to offer but that doesn’t mean for one moment that you shouldn’t be thinking about how you might be able to help them.
When I was in the corporate world, I worked for a company that pioneered executive coaching in the UK. One of the coaches I worked with generated over £1m in annual revenues purely through networking. I would like to say she had an army of people supporting her endeavours but she didn’t. If you have the right approach you can definitely attract and win the right type of clients for your business. However, it takes investment – normally a small amount of money but certainly a fair amount of time. Like any marketing tactic you have to decide if this is the right approach for you and if it is, then you have to be committed to making it work.
Below are some suggestions you may wish to consider if you’re keen to give your networking efforts a kick-start but we should remember that the key to successful networking is avoiding the temptation to be too self-absorbed and obsessed with trying to land fresh business for yourself. That might seem wrong-headed or counter-intuitive but in the long run it is vital to take a more balanced approach to doing business.
I agree whole-heartedly with the late Eunice Kennedy Schriver, sister to the American political icons John, Robert and Edward Kennedy, who when interviewed, would often say that one of the most important questions to ask at the dinner table was, “Who have you served today?”
Her point and mine is that rather than always looking for opportunities to sell, we should be looking for opportunities to serve others. For us, this might be about helping a fellow business owner, for example, to get clarity around a challenge; connecting them with the right person or sharing an interesting piece of information, statistic, white paper, article or report. The behaviour that supports the action of serving is compassion – when you truly care about the outcomes for another individual you create generosity of spirit and that is remembered, valued and you leave the person feeling good. You will hear things like, ‘that’s really brightened up my day’, or ‘that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had at an event like this’, or ‘that’s really saved me a lot of time’.
The person on the receiving end of your support will always remember how you made them feel and will remember you as a connector and a problem solver. They will see that you are not being a pushy sales person. The people you have helped will become your ambassadors and that’s when the magic starts to happen. Word of mouth recommendations will spread, people will want to start connecting with you and proactively seek you out at networking events. So when you go to your next networking event try the following:
- Make it your overall objective to speak with as many new people as reasonably possible within the time available. As a guide spend no longer than 15-20 minutes talking with someone before moving onto the next person.
- Give yourself an objective of connecting with at least one if not two people whom you have not met before and offer your advice or promise to go back with some insight that will help with their thinking. The only point you need to remember is to do what you say you are going to do.
- Introduce two people who could benefit from knowing each other or refer work to other providers and you will be amazed at how it always seems to come back to you in a positive way.
- You need to get the person you are with to do the majority of the talking but not all the talking. Try and stick to the 90 second rule – you speak for a maximum of 90 seconds and then allow the other person to speak.
- Really listen to what the person is saying. Savvy networkers do little things like repeat statements the person they are speaking to has made to strengthen the connection. Ask pertinent questions to get the person to open up and extend the conversation further – this is where real breakthroughs occur.
- When you get in touch with someone as a follow up to a networking conversation, then be sure to keep your tone light and engaging. Mention something you either talked about or learnt at the event, ask them for their views on an issue or if they could recommend any other networking groups. It all represents an opportunity to keep the conversation going.
The well-known US businessman Russell Simmonds once said that the best yoga pose is a smile and, in a sense, your smile is one of your most valuable marketing tools.
Smiling is non-verbal communication and often it speaks louder than any words you can say. And it’s easy to understand why; think about how grateful you might feel towards the first person to smile at you in a crowded room full of perfect strangers.
Networking is a fantastic marketing tool which, if approached in the right way, can help you chart a course to success. However, we need the help of others if we want to succeed. You can’t grow in your influence if you don’t expand the network of people who know, trust and like you and that takes time, sincerity and a genuine desire to meet the needs of other people.
I would love to hear about your experiences or challenges with networking in the comments below!