If I had a dollar for every time I heard a business associate say “I went to that meeting and didn’t get any new business out of it, so I’m not going back,” I wouldn’t need to network ever again. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t give networking the time required to cultivate the connections necessary to make it worth the effort. While immediate sales would be ideal, there are other advantages that come from the process. And as the saying goes, “people like to do business with people they know.”
And it really is that simple. Think about it - if given the opportunity to do business with someone that you have established a relationship with over time or someone you just met, which would you choose? Not only do people choose to do business with those whom they know, they get a good feeling from giving the business to individuals they have come to know.
Networking takes time to establish those relationships and for people to understand exactly what it is you do for a career. You can’t assume that everyone in the room is so engaged with your story that they have memorized your business’ service and just so happen to have been waiting for you to show up so they could offer you their business. How many times do you see an advertisement on TV for a product you aren’t necessarily looking for at the time? I would imagine quite often. However, when the time comes to buy, the businesses that are top of mind tend to be the ones that reap the benefits of their consistent marketing efforts. Couple that with the power of an established relationship and your chances are multiplied.
Remember, you are establishing credibility. Demonstrate that you are the expert on your field of work. We tend to think that everyone in the room should WANT to do business with us. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a fit. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to speak with those outside of your possible sales model. Just as much as we tend to do business with those we know, we find gratification in referring others to people that we know will take care of them. There is a sense of good that comes from this process. And that is why it is called a “network.” It’s made up of resources from an array of businesses coming together to communicate their stories so that we might do business with or REFER business to one another.
Networking helps establish self-esteem and confidence. Socialization is a basic need in human nature. By growing your circle of associates and friends, your self-esteem and confidence also grows. This will manifest itself and flow into prospective client presentations. This confidence in your field will inevitably result in more sales. In fact, prospects will begin paying more attention to your solutions than they will be at looking at costs. In a business world as competitive as the one we’re currently in, price will always be a factor. But establishing yourself as the expert and presenting additional solutions will separate you from your competition.
Individuals that are new to the concept of networking may feel some apprehension, and that’s to be expected. But with each networking event under your belt, the more comfortable and beneficial the meetings will become. The easiest way to overcome this uneasy feeling is to be prepared. Prepare a 30 second “elevator speech” that will engage your audience (whether it’s one on one or a room full of listeners). It should be precise enough to communicate EXACTLY what your business does in terms people will understand. I can’t count the number of times I’ve met an individual that has told me what they do for a career and I walk away not understanding what it is they do. Don’t expect people to continue to ask you questions until they “get it.” They won’t be familiar with terminology that is used within your perspective industry and this is especially true with consultants. Be prepared to explain exactly what it is your company does and what types of businesses or individuals are your ideal customers. It will immediately get the person or persons thinking of who they might know that fits your business.
Try to go it alone. A common mistake I notice often at different networking events are those attending with other co-workers or friends. While it can eliminate some of the apprehension, it will decrease the number of new contacts you make. If you are going to sit at a table with everyone you know, you won’t be afforded the opportunity to meet new people. The whole purpose of networking is to grow your circle of contacts. While it’s tempting to sit and catch up with co-workers or friends, you’ll reap the benefits of networking while doing it alone. Other practices to employ to help ensure your fully prepare include:
- Try to find out in advance who might be in attendance. This might help you prepare for different types of audiences and businesses.
- Research to find out information and items for discussion topics of any presenters.
- Make sure you have your business cards with you to easily provide your contact information.
- After talking with someone, take a moment to write something on the back of their business card to help you remember something about them. Perhaps about their family, kids, people that you both know, etc.
- Emphasize LISTENING rather than speaking.
- Compile a list of five general questions that you can ask to “spark” conversation in any setting.
- Get involved once you are there! Participate and be visible.
- Practice makes perfect. Attend as many networking events as your schedule allows to determine those that are most beneficial.