In 2013, I made the decision to move my company from the US where I founded it back to my hometown of Toronto. It was exciting to move back home, and to a city where a tremendous amount of business is done, but essentially it meant starting all over again. I had very few contacts and no clients in the city.
It was through strategic and effective business networking that I was able to grow Bush Marketing to the company it is today, and in a relatively short period of time. Networking, when done effectively, can dramatically increase the growth of your business and grow your client list.
But what does it mean to network effectively?
In this article, we will explore some of the tactics you can use to ensure that the time you invest into networking is productive, and to discover any networking hazards that we may encounter so that we can avoid them.
Here are our top networking tips for 2018!
1. Research the Event
Nothing is more frustrating then getting prepped for, and going to, a networking event that can in no way benefit your business. There will be a limit on the amount of time that you can dedicate to networking, so it needs to be effective. This is why it is critical to understand the nature of the event prior to going to it. This can be as simple as reviewing an event page to see what the purpose of the event is and who will be attending.
If an event page is not available, calling the event organizer is a wise idea. When you speak to the organizer, tell them about your business and that you want to be a benefit to the other people there. This will determine if it a good fit for you to attend?
2. Be Able to Answer the “BIG” Question
The big question, of course, is this:
“So, what do you do?”
It seems like an easy enough question to answer certainly. You are who you are, you know what you do. So why the need to prep an answer?
There is a substantial difference between knowing what you do, and being able to effectively communicate that in a short period of time. The “Rule of Sevens” states that you have 7 seconds to make a positive first impression, 14 seconds to generate interest and 21 seconds to complete your story. That is an extremely tight window to impress somebody, and to communicate who you are, what you do, why you’re good at it and why you are worth knowing.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your answer to this question is too “canned”, you can certainly turn people off. It should feel very natural. And perhaps most importantly, do not sell, and do not brag.
Here is an excellent article on how to construct an elevator pitch. Time to write yours.
3. Bring Business Cards
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people show up to networking events and do not have a business card. The business card is still the most effective method of marketing oneself in a networking environment.
Make sure that you invest money into a professional and attractive business card. It will reflect poorly on your company, on you and on your brand if you have a flimsy and poorly designed business card. Don’t print them up at home, and don’t get the freebies from Vistaprint. These may actually cost you business instead of generating business!
4. Make it About Them
Now that we’ve selected an event that is a good fit, we have our elevator pitch and our impressive business cards, it’s time to network!
One of the aspects of networking that people dislike the most is the fact that they have to talk about themselves. So don’t! The best way to avoid doing that is by making the conversation about the person you’re speaking to and not yourself. Think about it. There is nothing to learn by speaking about yourself. Be inquisitive and get the person you’re speaking with to open up about themselves. Remember we are trying to build relationships here. We’re not selling anything, we’re not buying anything. Try to find common ground and common experiences.
While they’re telling you about themselves and their business, keep one question in your mind the entire time:
“ How can I help this person?”
It is through being generous in business, and it is through helping people in business, that we succeed. If you go into a networking event with the mentality of, “I need to generate business”, nothing good will come of it. It is through giving that we generate these deep relationships not through taking.
So what are some ways that we can help the people that we meet? We can forward them an article or a blog post that may answer a question that they have. We could connect them with another person or business who may be able to solve a problem. If they are having a problem in business that you have encountered and solved, you can share your experience with them.
Anything you can do to help somebody will help you develop a deep business relationship with that person. This will end up benefiting you in the long run.
6. Don’t Waste Time on “Takers”
When you attend a networking event, know that there’s going to be a limited number of people with whom you can make contact. I used to go to the networking events with one belief: if I can make one solid contact at this event, it will be a success.
In order to do that you need to speak to a variety of people. As you make your way through the room, take stock of the people you’re talking to. Have they embraced a philosophy similar to yours of helping people? Or are they in it for themselves? If they are in it for themselves, don’t waste time. Selfish people will suck your time away.
If you find that you’re in a conversation with a self-interested person who is eating up your time, simply excuse yourself from the conversation. Even if it means interrupting them. Simply say this:
“Name, I’m going to jump in here. Thanks very much for the chat. I’m going to circulate around the room now and meet a few more people. Take care.”
Maybe that seems cold and difficult to do but it’s really not. It might be tough to do it the first time, but with practice, it will become natural.
7. Don’t Perform
In the conversations that you have at these events, you need to be yourself. Don’t put on an act and don’t try to be something you think you should be. People have an ability to sense inauthenticity. They may not know exactly what’s wrong, but they’ll get a sense that something is wrong. If the relationship that you’re developing is meant to be meaningful, they’re going to get to know you anyway. Be yourself, and be confident in yourself!
8. Take Action!
The event may be over, but the work is definitely not done. When you get back to the office or back home, look at the business cards that you’ve collected and inventory the conversations you’ve had. Follow up via email with every person you make contact. If you offered to help them by sending an article or introducing them to someone, do so immediately. If you want to further the relationship with them, offer to schedule an introductory call with them or a one-to-one meeting over coffee or lunch.
This is the element of networking that people often neglect. It’s all about the follow-up!
9. Be Positive
If your first attempt at networking didn’t go well or even your first few attempts. don’t quit! Maintain an optimistic attitude and keep at it. If you follow the above rules, you’re sure to find success down the road.
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