September 4, 2009
Like it or not, meeting people face-to-face is a grand way to grow your business.
Professionals net-work all the time getting to know one another and thus creating trust. I regularly receive referrals from my friends and acquaintances in all my social networks. That happens because they know what I do and they know me. And likewise, I know them and what they do so I can easily make excellent referrals.
And, as a professional executive coach I have to have credible professionals in my arsenal. Those relationships with like-minded professionals are a critical way I serve my own clients because they depend upon me to help them solve myriad problems with my trusted referrals.
In addition to friends and acquaintances there are other avenues for networking including formal groups, informal groups, and on-line social networks. These avenues all work for a good net-worker and require similar strategies-really. And becoming a good net-worker is not rocket science, although some business development trainers would have you think so.
In reality there are a few things you must understand and the rest is based on your personality and your native comfort level, and your ability to sift through the opportunities for the good matches and recognize where you’re wasting your time.
Here are some networking tips that come from building my business during my 10 years in private practice and more than that networking inside organizations. Yes, if you want to build a professional career, then you need to know the right players inside your organization as well as out in the world.
Face-to-face networking still looms as a top way to grow your business but don’t ignore on-line opportunities included LinkedIn and Twitter
Why should I be giving this advice? I remember when I started networking, I tried to find new clients and fit as much as I could into the 30-second pitch. And I felt terrible when the meeting was over: my expectations where so high and my skills so low. What did I know about networking anyway? I just left my teaching and advising post at a major educational institution where selling wasn’t necessary. And, I had successfully trained women to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital. No sweat. I never had to sell myself before. Here’s what I know now after 10 years of intensive and successful professional networking and wish I’d known then:
1. Set your expectations
Keep your energy high and your expectations low-seek out like-minded colleagues and logical strategic partners rather than look for your next (or perhaps first) client.
When you’re meeting new people don’t ask for business ask to get to know them
2. Pick the Right Networking Group for you
If you find ‘your people’, that is your target market of strategic partners and potential clients, then you’ve probably found the right group. If not, then don’t waste a lot of time on the group because it won’t change. Different types of people are drawn to different groups and that doesn’t change. If it’s a bad match but you find one person who is a good match for you, then leave together and help each other find a better networking group.
3. What about a local well-established group like a Chamber of Commerce?
Disclaimer here: I don’t care for these types of groups. It feels too much like the dating and bar scene. Everyone’s seems to be scrounging around for business and not interested in anything deep or meaningful. Plus there are tons of the same types of persons at these meetings so you have lots of competition and not a lot of differentiation. What happens is your services become commodity services instead of personal-it becomes about your price instead of your inherent value.
If you are lucky enough to find a good group, then make a commitment and show up for at least 6 months to realize your investment. Even if you’re with ‘your people’ it takes time to build trust and find worthy referral sources.
5. Get Dressed
It matters. Really. It matters. Decisions are make about you before you open your mouth -7 seconds actually. So, get dressed up. Even at 7 AM, even if you’re a ceramicist, get dressed Dress as a professional, look like a professional. Even in Los Angeles where things get more casual every day, most of us dress for meetings because it helps. And why would anyone reject help that is so easily acquired?
6. Arrive Early
Think of the meeting as you would a workout at the gym. What’s the point of going if you’re not going to make the most of it? Arrive early, stick around, collect cards, and commit to calling for follow-up meetings.
7. Work the Room
Timing is everything here-spend enough time to connect with someone but not so much time that you don’t get around the room. If you spend too much time with one person, it will feel like you’re trying to sell yourself; too little time, you’re using them. So, be sure to have a firm handshake, use eye contact, ask what they do, what brings them here, ask a follow up question, let them know what you do, and then excuse yourself. “So nice to meet you. We have plans to follow up. I’ll call you tomorrow to set that appointment. Now I must move on so that I am doing my job as a networker.” After all everyone knows why you’re there so why not acknowledge the obvious.
8. Introduce Yourself
Your elevator pitch is 15-60 seconds that captures you and your business. The point is to open the conversation so that others want to catch up with you after the introductions. If you sound like everyone else…’hi, my name is… I am a…’ you’ll lose at second 5.
Here’s my formula for success and you should do it in under 25 seconds:
a. Ask a question relevant to your work
b. Give a substantive answer
c. Then give your name and company
This works EVERY time. I promise. Every time.
9. Follow up
Do it. Most groups have norms for following up. Follow them. IF there are no rules to guild you, then reconsider membership in the group. You should be calling, interviewing, and/or meeting with your new colleagues. Booking time to follow-up is just more marketing and it’s free so why would you leave it on the table?
Be careful about taking on a leadership role in a networking group. Disclaimer here: I am the president of a private networking group and it’s a good gig for me because I’m not required to sacrifice my business for the sake of the group. But, many groups require their leaders to work for the organization and not their own businesses. The sale is you’ll receive more notice as a leader. The truth is you lose your focus and start building the group’s business instead of your own. You can become know as a leader by networking with others instead of promoting the business of the group.