The problem is, many of us can’t stand the idea of business networking. It feels fake and contrived. And if you’re an introvert you are probably breaking into a cold sweat from the thought of it. Just thinking of spending countless hours on small talk in a loud and crowded room of strangers is enough to make you exhausted.
Here is a healthy reframe on business networking to make it a whole lot easier.
- Get clear on what business networking really is: Business networking isn’t entering a crowded room, talking to as many people as possible, swapping business cards frantically and seeing what you can get from others. Quite simply it is building long-term relationships with key people for a mutual benefit. It is important for you to really understand that sentence. When you come from a mindset of “how can I help this person” (and actually help them) then you will be rewarded in return.
- Understand exactly the kinds of people you want to meet: You are doing yourself a disservice if you aim to do business with everyone. It is costly, time consuming and in some instances, can be very stressful when you are dealing with the wrong kinds of clients. Be very specific about their demographics, interests, beliefs and where they congregate as well as ensuring you understand their problem and exactly how you can solve it for them. Then aim to build relationships with the people that fit your ideal client profile. To make business networking even more effective for you (and to quickly increase your results), you’ll want to build relationships with your ideal clients, but strategic alliances as well. Strategic alliances are people who share the same ideal client as you do, but whose company or service doesn’t overlap with yours. For example, a wedding photographer could have strategic alliances with a florist, wedding dress boutique, wedding venues, wedding organisers, make up artists, hairdressers and more. Strategic partners are usually your best referral partners.
- Be the ultimate icebreaker: The idea of business networking can be very daunting for some – especially for first timers. You see these people looking nervous, standing by themselves or hiding in the corner. Take the first step and make these people feel welcome and comfortable by approaching them and saying “My name is Marika, please tell me about your business”. And if you are feeling daunted, then this tip works just as well for you. It is guaranteed to get anyone talking effortlessly and confidently. Greeting attendees at the door of a business networking function is also a great way to get known and break the ice with a wide variety of people. It gives you the opportunity to meet everyone and assess who may be the perfect person to approach. Once the introductions are over, get mingling! You can’t hide at the door the entire time.
- Perfectly define how you help your clients to pique their interest: When the conversation turns to you and your business, the biggest failure I see people do is talk about what they do rather than how they help their clients. Most people know what a bookkeeper does, an interior designer does or a florist does. Instead of saying you are a bookkeeper how about a statement that talks about the results you get clients. What about “I help small businesses in the plumbing industry who have 2-5 employees gain control of their accounts, decode the numbers into meaningful information that enables them to support and focus on the critical business decisions and activities that need to occur in order to grow their business”. Notice how this also mentions a broader version of the ideal client profile (we can’t mention every element of the profile as it would take too long but the listener starts to get the idea)? This will certainly be more interesting to listen to than the other bookkeepers they would have met and will encourage that person to ask questions.
- Make a date and circulate: When the conversation is coming to the end and you feel that you could assist each other then agree to connect the next day to set up a time to get together. Then it’s time to move along and meet other people.When there is nothing left to say, you see someone else you want to talk to or you feel you aren’t able to assist this person be polite and say, “It’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for your time. I don’t want to keep you from networking with others. Enjoy the rest of the evening!”
- Stay connected: Business networking is about the long-term so it is important to stay connected with your key contacts. Provide referrals for them, support them by using their services and always add value. The more value you give, the more people want to spend time with you, the more they’ll follow your lead, the more they’ll recommend you.