Networking is a crucial part of developing referrals and opening new doors. Indeed, many advisers we work with are building profitable businesses almost solely on referrals. Building a referral network is a great way to find new clients and prospects. However, contrary to popular belief, networking is not about trying to sell your services to someone the minute you walk through the door.
Networking is an opportunity to engage with new people and build rapport with them. It is an opportunity to engage on an emotional level, explain what you do and discuss the challenges your co-networkers (and potential future clients) may be facing. Done well, it should leave them thinking “sounds like just what I need”. You are unlikely to win a new client on one outing but if you engage in a simple, straight-forward way, without being salesy or pushy, you are likely to go on to have further meetings, which, over time, should result in new business.
But despite the clear benefits, networking sits outside the comfort zone of many. Indeed, certain natural fears can deter people from networking at all. Do any of these sound familiar?
- What if I run out of things to say?
- What if I end up standing on my own?
- What if I end up stuck with someone I do not like?
- I am no good at small talk.
- I do not like public speaking.
Here, familiarity, practice and a few techniques can help you to build confidence. Successful networking requires enthusiasm, focus and passion. It is certainly no place for wallflowers. It is also important to remember, though, that it is a long-term game, so do not expect any quick wins.
Here are a few tips that will help you build some confidence and create a good impression.
- Be present. That means no glancing over your shoulder, fiddling with your phone or looking at your watch when you are talking to people. Sounds obvious but it happens.
- Maintain eye contact, actively listen and ask great questions.
- Be positive and welcoming. Try to maintain a relaxed, open posture and smile – it is infectious.
- Have some conversation starters up your sleeve and try to find common ground.
- Make an excuse if you want to move on. Use the fact that it is a networking event to excuse yourself to connect with other people.
- Most importantly, have a well-rehearsed elevator pitch that you use to explain who you are, what you offer and the benefits your clients receive. Use this one-to-one or at any events when you are given your 60 second chance to shine.
- Deliver on promises by following up on any referrals in a professional and positive way.
- Follow up with every individual you meet on a one-to-one basis, either by email or phone, to acknowledge the meeting and possibly enclose some high level details about your business. Keep building the relationship.
- Develop an effective “keep in touch” strategy with members of your network. Meet informally for coffee or the occasional lunch, email them and send them copies of your newsletter.
- And take plenty of business cards.
Networking is not for everyone but if you observe these tips, you never know, you might even enjoy it.
Jane Cuthbertson is a chartered marketer and associate consultant with Steve Billingham Consulting