We work with a lot of business owners and professionals and we often get asked questions about networking such as; how often should I be out networking? Where should I be networking? What are some dos and don’ts of networking? It’s interesting that as business owners, we know we need to network, but there are many unknowns with networking –probably the biggest unknown is, how do we measure the return on investment (ROI) of networking?
Well, we know that there is a huge return on investment with networking that surpasses any other marketing tactic on the planet. Although marketing your business online, through your website, email marketing and social media are all important and work very well, couple that with meeting face-to-face with people, can be a winning combination for success. Networking is also a very cost effective and natural way to attract new business. So, here are a few quick tips or best practices for networking:
Walk into the networking space with a smile.
This can be difficult if you feel nervous walking into a room full of people you don’t know. That said, if you can manage a smile and keep your head up, as you walk in, that’s a great start! As human beings, we are naturally attracted to and want to work with people who are approachable, look confident, but most importantly, those who have a smile on their face. You will likely feel more drawn to go and say “hello” to the people who are smiling, who have their head up and are looking at who they will talk to first. They tend to exude a certain trustworthiness and are more likely to be conversational with you when you meet them as well. So next you enter a room, take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back and smile…notice what happens!
Interact with tact and be sensitive to others.
Have you ever been at a networking event and had someone come up, say “hi” and before you can respond, they jam a business card into your hand? They may have even interrupted your conversation with someone else. This can leave a very negative impression and if you’re like us, it’s very unlikely you will ever reach out to that person to do business with them. Before walking up to someone to start a conversation, be tactful. If two people are talking shoulder to shoulder, that is an indication that they are open to others joining their conversation. If two people are face-to-face, and seem to be in deep conversation, that is not an invitation for you to join their conversation or interrupt them. Find another friend to have a chat within the meantime.
Be intentional when you are out networking.
The best way to connect with someone, is to smile, say hello and say your name. Hold out your hand to shake theirs. Avoid the “So, what do you do?” question. This is a cop-out and can be off-putting. Instead, warm up the conversation and ask a few questions; how are you? How did get started in your business? I`m always curious about this… who or what inspired you to start your own business? These are all great conversation starters, as they can prompt other questions and a much deeper conversation. It also lets the other person know you are interested in them and their business. Usually, when you make a strong connection, that person will ask for your business card and possibly a meeting. Set the intention to meet with just 2 – 3 people and have a meaningful conversation with them.
After attending a networking event, you have likely collected a couple of business cards, and quite likely you exchanged business cards with other people. So, the next step and the key to building relationships, is to reach out to them and thank them for a great conversation. You may want to invite them to continue your conversation over coffee. Also, if someone reaches out to you, make sure you respond in a timely manner. This is part of building rapport and trust with that other individual, and it starts with being responsive –so email them back within a day whenever possible! Oh, and a quick note about business cards, be very careful about adding someone to your mailing list. It may not serve you to do so. It`s always best to invite them to join your newsletter, or better yet, allow them to peruse your website, have a pop-up with a freebie and have them join your newsletter by choice!
We have found that in most cases, when you are out networking with like-minded people, it`s likely that you will make a connection with at least 1-2 people, and they will become a client or refer someone to you, if you have followed the steps above. Be relatable, friendly, listen carefully, be curious and for goodness sake, unless they ask, do not start selling to them! They will become agitated and will look for a way to leave the conversation. You haven`t earned their trust yet, let alone their business! Networking is not for making the sale. It`s intended to connect with others and build rapport.
How often should you network?
Well, especially in the beginning when you are just starting out with your business, we suggest getting out to at least three networking events each week. This will give you an opportunity to check out a few different groups, see how you feel, if they are a fit or not.
How does the ROI work?
Once you find a couple of groups that feel right for you and your business, choose two to three networking groups that you can attend regularly and stick with them. Be patient, as it takes time to build the know-like-and-trust factor and the more consistently you attend, the better you become at sharing stories, examples of how you can help which showcases you and your business brilliantly, helping you get good traction. If you stick with a group and show up to each meeting, you should start to get the return on your investment of time, money and energy with clients, either directly from those groups or referrals from them. It is about giving, as much as it is receiving though, so be sure to meet with other businesses within those groups to learn about them and their business, and look for ways that you can support and refer each other!
Where should you network?
There are a lot of great networking groups around, including Professionals in Partnership, a local group of which we have been members for a few years now. There are BNI Chapters all over the world, and we highly recommend that you check out your local Chamber of Commerce as well. We have found that there is a great variety of business owners and professionals who attend these meetings and events. Also, your Chamber of Commerce will likely offer a variety of times in which you can network from breakfast meetings, to Lunch n’ Learns, to Business After 5 networking in order to suit all types of businesses. If you are a great speaker, they even offer speaking opportunities to do a presentation on a topic of interest. This is great for visibility and helping others get to know more about what you do and how you can help them!
We hope you found this post helpful, and that you have more insight on how to measure the return on investment (ROI) of networking. Remember to smile when you enter the room. Be curious. Ask questions. Show up consistently. Connect. Build relationships –repeat. The business will come.