Networking is about more than connecting through social media. It’s about getting in front of people so they get to know you as a person, and learn to trust you. Your network is made up of the people that you meet in your position, and you take them with you no matter what career changes you may make. That is what makes them so valuable.
What is networking?
Networking is defined as ‘a process where you develop long term relationships with others for mutual benefit’.
It isn’t just one thing but a couple of elements working together. It isn’t instantaneous results from just one event – it’s a process. It’s about cultivating long term relationships that will last beyond that one sale. It’s for mutual benefit, not for selling; selling is something separate that may happen because of your networking.
When you are networking you need to remember it is about being part of an interconnected team of people, with you as one piece of that puzzle. Your network is an accumulation of your key relationships – both work and personal. Relationship is everything when it comes to networking, because those relationships will generate referrals. Referrals are the best form of business one can hope for, as they come to you by recommendations, not just a Google search. There is a person behind a referral and that means there is an element of trust in it.
“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust”
– Bob Burg
Are there rules of networking?
As with most things, there are rules to networking, most of them are around being a connector. Someone that people turn to when they need help. It is never really about you – it’s about who you know, and the value they can provide when someone needs assistance or help. By focusing on helping others you are deepening relationships and creating goodwill. Know that you are never doing it for the sale. It is not about who you know, but about who they know.
Also remember that every industry is different. Make sure you observe how people interact with each other at any event you are at. If it is all hard talk and sales, then you can do the same. But if it isn’t that kind of environment, you will just frighten people away if you are too abrasive. The nature of your industry will often dictate the tone of your conversations.
Talking to someone new can be terrifying for some of us. Don’t let fear stop you thought. Be courageous. Think of every conversation as your chance to help someone with a problem they may not even know they have yet. Don’t appear desperate – people can smell desperation. By focusing on others you change that, and your desperation disappears. It becomes about what you can do for them instead of what they can do for you.
Make sure your conversations have give-and-take. Engage with the person. Give them your full attention. Nod, agree, comment, and ask more questions. Do not take this as your moment to verbally assault them with stories about yourself. No one likes when that happens in a social setting, they will like it even less in a business setting.
Be authentic. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Believe it or not, people can tell straight away if your faking it. Authenticity encourages friendship and will attract others to you. People want to be around people that are their true selves all the time. They will know what to expect when they see you next. They will know that when they refer someone, you will behave exactly the same way with them. Consistency creates value.
Don’t fear competition
Imagine you are a fishbowl sales person at an event with 1000 people, and there are 4 other fishbowl sales people in the room with you. If you are being your authentic self, you will attract people to you that you have a connection or common interest with. Understand that there is enough business there for everyone. You don’t want to be chasing after every person in the room; you want those people who are interested in you. You want those people that will become long term relationships and give you more than one piece of business.
Ask yourself – Do I like this person? Would I spend long periods of time with them? Would I want to do business with them for the next 20 years? If you can answer ‘Yes’, then these are the people you want to be networking with. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Where to find people to network with
The easy answer is everywhere! Start with those close to you. Practise developing your 5 second/one-line elevator pitch with your friends and family. Make it brief and succinct without it turning into a conversation all about “Me”. Better yet, try asking them about themselves, without ever talking about yourself. Give them your undivided attention and actually be interested in what they are saying. Pay attention to them.
Then practise on people in the bank queue, at gym, in church. Take up a hobby, and practise talking with others in your class. Sit next to some in a coffee shop and talk with them. Join a community association, Chamber of Commerce, trade association, or talk to people at Trade Shows. Talk to people at parties you get invited to.
Be engaged, friendly and open. Be interested in them beyond what they can do for you. Once you start talking to people, you will be surprised how easy it is to keep talking to them.
3 Questions to ask every person to guarantee a follow up meeting
Towards the end of a conversation, once you have all the information you can get about someone, ask the following questions:
- Are you looking for new clients/prospects at this time?
- What sets you apart from your competition?
- What does your ideal client look like?
Then, if this is the case, let them know you have a couple of people that could use their services or that might need their help. Ask if they might be interested in getting their details. If it’s a yes, arrange a time to meet for coffee. Follow through on your promise to help. That is the most important part. When you show up for your meeting, pass on that referral or name of a great contact to them. By doing so, you create that trust, and a relationship. You are proving that you can and will help when you can. It creates the feeling of wanting to do the same in the other person. You are now truly part of their network.
Whether you have been networking for 15 years or a month, there is always room to improve your game. We hope that this advice helps next time you step into a room full of strangers – that are about to become friends.
Big thanks to Randy McCord for sharing his networking expertise with us at a recent conference. We are happy to we could share it with you.