Hands up who gleefully adores going to networking events? Most small business owners would prefer to do two rounds with their accounts at tax time rather than make small talk at a networking event.
If you are a reluctant networker, then read on!
What if I told you that the skills you need to become great at networking were the same skills you need to market your business?
What if I told you that if you master these ten things, you will be well on the way to success in both (… and that networking and marketing would actually begin to become vaguely pleasurable)?
Tips for Reluctant Networkers and Marketers
1) Turn Up!
People are looking for you and your business. Unless they can see you, they cannot connect with you.
There’s no point sticking a logo on your website, “Member of XYZ Organisation, Brisbane Chapter” if you never actually show up to meetings. A logo never converts anyone into a buyer. You need to physically turn up to meetings.
There’s also no point in not having a web presence. If you are not on the net, your business doesn’t exist. If they can’t find you on the net, they can’t buy from you. You need to turn up on the net, and turn up when people search for businesses like yours.
2) Be Consistent Without Being Creepy
If you are part of a networking group, make sure you consistently turn up to the group. People often need to see you more than once to be comfortable talking with you, hire you or refer business to you. A one-off shot doesn’t cut it.
My record was turning up every month to one organisation’s meetings for three whole years before one of the members finally became a client. Then, over the next six months, 92% of the members became my clients. (The other 8% were competing marketing companies). Persistence pays off!
However, if you turn up to every single event, at every single networking group in your larger geographic region, you start to look as if you never actually do any work (and begin to look like a creepy stalker dude that is always right behind someone whenever they turn around).
Pick the groups and events that resonate the most with you, and then become a regular at just that select handful of events.
In terms of your marketing, this means you need to be consistent in your communication. Don’t just do a single email blast, one blog post, or one social media update and expect results. Don’t try to be everywhere all the time on the net. You are not a politician. Pick what works for you, and then do that brilliantly and consistently well!
3) Listen And Ask Questions To Clarify Other People’s Needs
No one wants to be stuck at an event next to a mind-numbingly boring blow-hard who only talks about themselves. Listen more than you talk and ask questions from a space of genuine interest in finding out more, without becoming a Grand Inquisitor.
Give the other person space to talk without needing to constantly interrupt to prove your worth. Being heard is one of the most valuable gifts you can give someone.
This also applies in your marketing: Make your words more about the other person and not about you. If your marketing words only talk about you, your values, and what you think is interesting, you will soon notice people quietly disappearing off towards to nearest virtual exit.
4) Give First, And Be Generous In Your Giving
At networking events, take time to enjoy meeting people and getting to know them in more depth. This is not speed dating. Savour getting to know the person you are talking with.
Be the first to give referrals, share advice, or make introductions. Spend the session introducing people to the other people there by sharing a little bit about what you have learned about them and their business to help spark conversation.
By learning about the other person and their business, and then introducing them to others who can help that person succeed, people are ecstatically grateful towards you, and you feel like you have a useful task to do (which gets you over shyness).
The same goes with your marketing copy and is a foundational rule of content marketing. Share your expertise and make connections for people. Be generous giving information and tips, and connect your readers and followers with great resources and other businesses.
5) Tell Real Stories And Be Authentic
Something happens when we share real warts and all stories: It gives permission for other people to be real in return.
When we drop the holier than thou mask, and the pretence that we are ever-so-successful-at-everything, we end up connecting at a much deeper level. Successful networkers share their stories. So do successful copywriters and content marketers.
6) Be Clear Telling People What You Do
At most networking events, people share their 2-minute elevator speech. The trouble is that after some speeches people are left nodding as solemnly as one of those head-bobbing toy dogs in the back of a car (and have no clue about what you ACTUALLY do and how it could benefit them).
If they don’t understand you, they can’t help you or refer business your way. If your speech does not result in people coming up to chat with you after the meeting, then you need to tweak your talk.
The same thing happens with website content. Too many small business websites waffle, and are as stacked as full as a new mum’s nappy bag. If people read your website and STILL don’t know what you do, then it’s time for another look at your website words.
7) Be Clear About Your Ideal Client
Many networking sessions ask you to explain your ideal referral to help people know who to send your way. Saying, “Any person with a pulse,” does not qualify. Be clear exactly who your ideal clients are, and weave this information into your stories.
Do the same thing with your website and your marketing collateral. If your ideal client is 35-50 year old males who work in an office, showing 20 something women drenched in Lorna Jane gear isn’t going to work well for you.
Know who you work with, and make sure that your ideal clients can see themselves in your photos and read about themselves in your words.
8) Make It Easy For People To Follow Up
If you connect at a networking event, then a common way to arrange a follow up is to share your business cards.
Before your next event, look over your cards. Do they “feel” solid and high quality? Is the design professional & attractive? Can you actually read the text without a magnifying glass? Is there an incentive on the back of your card to drive people to check out your website and join your mailing list? (You do have a lead magnet and a mailing list don’t you?)
In your marketing, it means making sure your phone number, website and other contact details are prominently displayed. I have seen ads with no phone numbers or web addresses – as well as ads with incorrect numbers and misspelled URLS. Unless you are trying to network with a posse of psychics, this is not a good move.
9) Follow Up And Follow Through
After the event, jot on the back of the cards you have collected where you met the person, the date, if they consented to join your mailing list and if you promised to send them anything.
If you promise to send something to someone, make sure you send it through within 24 hours after the event. Getting a lead is only useful if you take action on it.A lead gathering dust is a lead that is lost.Click To Tweet
That said, unless someone has explicitly stated that they want to join your mailing list, adding their details from a business card they gave you at a networking event is not only illegal and against the Spam Act, it is also simply rude and deserves all the abuse that will be heaped on your head in CAPITAL LETTERS for doing it.
10) Quality Is More Important That Quantity
Networking is not a competition to collect cards – with the winner declared as the person with the most cards at the end of the event. Forming a deep connection with one or two people at an event is more useful that scattering your cards around the room like confetti to anyone within reach, and hoping that one “sticks.”
If you try to sell to the person at the networking event, you may as well not bother turning up. Networking delivers maximum results from long-term alliances, and establishing credibility and trust.
The same rule applies with contacts on your email list, pages on your website or “likes” on your Social Media profiles. Quality trumps quantity every time.Learn to sell through and not to.Click To Tweet
Use your online presence and content marketing to establish and build your credibility, and be there for the long haul rather than the quick hit.
One Last Tip
Alliances are the some of the most effective business referral strategies. Look for people at networking events who provide goods or services to a similar client base to yourself, and then work together to build both of your businesses. That is the ultimate reason to attend networking events: To find fantastic alliance partners!