I don't know about you, but I hate business networking. I love meeting people and getting to know them, but when it comes to networking, I have never liked it. It took a long time for me to figure out why. You see, I had this vision of wild eyed sales people practically running through an event doing the sales equivalent of speed dating! It wasn't until I started doing networking that I realized my perceptions were wrong, at least for me. My goal with networking was not to see how many cards I could collect or how many cards I could pass out. My goal was to make honest connections with other business owners. This doesn't mean that I didn't meet a lot of people, but it meant that I wasn't worried if I only gave and received 3 or 4 cards.
The GSDBA held an event and the main speaker was Gary John from Corporate Alliance. The topic of his presentation was on networking and 4 things you can do to improve your networking. It was a real pleasure listening to Gary. He is a dynamic speaker and very inspiring. His talk hit home for me on many levels. First, it confirmed that I was on the right track in the way I wanted to do networking. Second, it gave me the courage to write this blog.
What exactly is Networking?
Before you can do networking, you have to understand what networking is. Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, defines the activity as "the art of building and maintaining connections for shared positive outcomes". What does that sentence mean to you? To me, it means that networking is not about selling, it is all about making connections with the people you meet.
Steps to making Networking work for you
- Have a purpose and a goal for the network event. When you look at networking events, check to see if there is an RSVP list. Are the people attending people who may have a need of the products and services that you provide? Will there be people attending that may provide you with referrals? If so, the event is one that you may consider attending. Once you know if the networking event is one that you want to attend, decide what your specific goals are for attending that event and set that intention firmly in your mind.
- Research who will be attending the event. If there is an RSVP list, use that to see who has confirmed attending. If you see one or two people that you absolutely must talk with, contact the organizers and let them know. They may be able to facilitate an introduction. Knowing a bit about that person will help to ease the conversation topics and take you from selling your products and services to understanding their needs.
- Set your expectations low. If you are busy thinking about the next person that you "need" to talk to, you may miss that all important statement or question that could propel your business forward with the person you are talking to. In a 60 to 90 minute networking event, a goal of speaking with 3 or 4 people, in depth, is a great goal. You are establishing quality connections and making good impressions.
- Avoid relationship arrogance. Gary John covered this expertly with an anecdote about one of the patrons at The Air Conditioned Lounge. He initially dismissed the person because they did not match his perceived ROI - Return on Investment profile. Doing your research on the people attending the event will help to prevent this. Remember, you aren't looking to get something. You are getting to know people. Everyone has a story, find out what theirs is.
- Utilize your natural strengths. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can be successful when networking. By being authentic, you utilize your skills, knowledge and experience when talking with people.
- Let your knowledge shine through. Your body language will speak more to a person than the words you say. Projecting the right attitude, the right posture and an engaging smile will go along way to attracting ideal clients. Be open and approachable. Make eye contact. But remember, no one likes a "know-it-all". So share your knowledge judicially without overwhelming the person you are talking with.
- Share your knowledge generously. Sharing your knowledge, and assisting someone with a problem, without expectation of something in return will make you stand out in a sea of people and business cards. It will give your new connection and others who are listening one more reason to remember, recommend or use your services.
Networking can be a scary thing if you have never done it before. But, there is no time like the present to develop your networking skills. Take your time, be attentive, ask questions and provide solutions. Building valuable networking connections is very much like building friendships. Successful businesses develop mutually beneficial relationships. Just like friendships, it takes more than a handshake and a couple of drinks to build a business relationship.