by Lynda Bilo, Referral and Relationship Marketing Wizardess
edited by Diana Khoury
Networking opportunities are everywhere. Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression, when you meet new business contacts you need to be prepared. If you’re not comfortable in most networking situations, being prepared is even more essential.
Instead of just showing up at a networking event, determine in advance what types of people you would like to meet.
Brainstorm what information you are looking for and what questions you want to ask so you have a clear strategy in mind. Here are some more tips to get you ready to network.
Set your intention.
If you go to a networking event hoping to sell your product or service to everyone there, that’s a surefire way to turn people off and to make sure no one wants to talk to you.
Instead, make an intention to connect with (a specific number of) others and build positive business relationships.
It’s important to attend networking events with a plan. Be clear why you are attending. Are you trying to get new business? Looking for clients or referrals? Doing research or searching for strategic partners? Or do you just need to get out of the house?
Set your intention before you head to an event, so you’re clear with yourself about what you want to get out of it. There are no wrong answers here. Just understand why you’re going, so after you’ll know if you achieved your objective.
Have a plan for who or what types of people you’d like to connect with at the networking event. If you are looking for referrals, consider the following:
- Know what problem your product or service solves.
- Who has the problem you solve = who is your ideal client?
- Who in your network has the same ideal clients in their network? Connect with these people.
What should you talk about?
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about, especially if you’re an introvert.
The easiest way to connect with others is by asking questions and listening to their answers. Plan to be interested and interesting.
Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Do your best to avoid the same old “what do you do?”
Some other questions you might ask:
- Have you attended these/this event before?
- What brought you to this event?
- Have you always lived in this area?
- Seen any good movies lately?
Remember, networking is about building relationships. No one comes to buy anything. No selling allowed. Leave your sales pitch at home and take a genuine interest in the other person or their business.
When to talk about yourself.
Instead of talking about yourself when you meet people, ask your connections about themselves and their business. Then authentically listen to their answers. Don’t just wait to talk. You might learn something valuable or interesting that you didn’t know before.
So when is it your turn to talk about what you do? Wait for others to ask you that question. Then have a brief “elevator speech” prepared about what you do and for whom and what problem it solves.
Don’t launch into your sales pitch – that’s a surefire way to alienate the people you’re talking to and to make sure they won’t want to talk to you for the rest of the night. Are you getting the point on this one?
Networking is about building relationships, which is an investment of time and energy that will pay off over time.
Where Should You Network?
The point of going to networking events is to connect, learn more about your business colleagues, and build relationships. Where are the best places to network? It depends.
It depends on your objective. If you’re going to look for referrals, choose groups where the businessfolk serve the same target audience you do. If your intention is to connect with potential clients, choose groups that will put you in contact with large groups of your ideal clients, or start your own MeetUp group.
There are a million and one networking events you can attend, paid or non-paid. Find the ones that best fit your purpose and your schedule. And remember, you’re not going there to sell your wares… networking is about building relationships.
Now that you’ve got your events all scheduled out, there are some administrative things you need to do to make sure you’re ready to roll.
- Be prepared: bring your calendar, pen, sharpie, phone camera, business cards.
- Don’t forget the breath mints! The importance of this point cannot be underestimated.
- Craft your 30 sec elevator speech to encourage your audience to say “Really? How do you do that?”
Create a follow-up plan.
The fortune of networking is in the follow-up. Treat the business cards you collect with more respect than the loose change in the bottom of your purse.
If a connection did express interest in your product or service at the event and asked you to follow up, don’t delay. Research shows that only 20% of sales leads are ever followed up on. 80% of potential opportunities are lost. If you are committed to growing your business, put yourself in the 20%.
For the other connections you made at the event, don’t be in sales mode, be in connection mode when you follow up. If you are looking for an eventual sale or referrals, it’s important to stay top of mind.
Here are some ideas that may help you build relationships out of your new (or existing) connections:
- Send an email expressing your pleasure at meeting the person, and request a time to connect further, to learn more about their business and how you might be able to refer to one another.
- If you have taken their card and you don’t feel an immediate connection, simply say, “Nice to meet you” and wish them well with their business.
- If the contact specifically expressed interest in your product/ service, schedule a meeting with them the following week while the lead is hot.
- For the ones with the most potential for referrals, schedule coffee or a phone meeting to connect further.
- If you are a card sender, send a personal note.
- Connect on social media (Facebook or LinkedIn), if appropriate.
- Keep in touch! Studies show that 80% of all sales are made after the 5th contact.
Networking is hard work. What’s the point?
Networking is about creating mutually beneficial relationships, not buying or selling stuff. Think of networking as going to a party with a purpose. And that purpose is not to give your sales pitch. It’s to meet and learn about others and how you can support one another as you grow your businesses.
In order to get the most out of networking, take the time to create a plan and set an intention for what you want to get out of each event. Determine who you want to connect with, why, and what you want to learn before you ever leave the house.
Have a plan, connect with the right people, ask good questions, listen, share, listen some more, be prepared and follow up in a timely manner.
Networking is an investment of your time and energy that pays off over time. Like exercise, you can’t just go once and expect to see the benefits. You need to go regularly and build relationships in order to create value.
If you stay committed, over time your investment in networking will pay off with great rewards for you both personally and professionally. Now get out there and connect!