Before online business networking, the only option was face-to-face networking for business. Typically, this was primarily achieved through trade show marketing and loyalty programs. “Schmoozing” or “rubbing elbows” are expressions that may come to mind when business professionals introduce and meet one another while establishing business rapport. Today’s focus has moved toward online marketing due to the ability to track details of each campaign/encounter and justify the time and money expended in setting up such campaigns.
People aren’t electronic campaigns, and people like to do business with other people they know and like. So, although digital techniques have been proven to be a highly effective source of making those connections, face-to-face networking at conferences or mixer events can tip the scales in your favor.
We’ll start by saying networking is hard. People meet, make small talk, promise to talk again, and neither of you ever calls. Follow these quick tips to change the narrative and turn your networking time from a brain drain into something that energizes you and grows your business.
Ask Questions; Get People to Talk about Themselves
How many times have you stood in the sidelines trying to come up with that perfect pitch? What can you say that will make yourself known?
You’re focusing on the wrong thing. People love to talk about themselves; let them.
Ask them genuine questions and get to know them. Find out who their ideal client is. Who their referral partners are. They not only will remember you for being the person that made it easy for them to talk about themselves, but they’ll probably actually like you and want to send business your way.
Talk about Yourself
Talking about them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend some time talking about yourself. Chances are they’ll make it easy and ask you the same questions about yourself. Rather than just parroting similar answers, advocate for yourself and your business. Make them comfortable with you by telling some stories that can be related back to business. Talk about your favorite kind of client; keep it positive and don’t talk about your least favorite. Be confident. Tell them what you do and why you do it. Your goal is to present yourself in a memorable way so they’ll think of you when they are looking for referrals to pass on.
Talk about Business
We all have personal lives and it is highly comfortable to fall back onto a backlog of funny and cute stories. Just remember that networking is “work” and if personal topics exceed business topics it becomes a social gathering. It’s important to get to know each other, but your end game is not to accumulate new best friends you are there to find out how this person can help refer your business as well as other helpful introductions. Stay focused on what you do, what you don’t do, and who you consider being a good client.
Discuss Your Niche
You must set yourself apart from all the other people in the room also networking. You can’t simply say you design, sell, or build houses and expect someone to send you referrals based only on that generic explanation. Be more specific. You are an interior designer that does aging-in-place design. You build luxury homes in Paradise Valley. You specialize in selling homes in the North Central Phoenix area. Do you charge for initial consultations?
Details like this will help them think of someone to send your way. When we make referrals, we refer individuals that we know enough about them to know which clients will be a great fit.
It might initially seem important to meet as many people as possible. This is not speed dating. You need to set your sites on those individuals who can be of benefit to you and you to them. You are not there to hit a quota for the evening.
Just spending time networking will not turn into referrals. You must go into this knowing who you are professionally so you can confidently sell that to the other professionals at the event. You need to preliminary understanding of what you or your clients are looking for in a referral partner to determine whether the two of you are a good professional fit.
Networking is an Investment
Your best referral partners are people you meet with regularly. It’s easy to say you’ll pass business after one meeting. But highly unlikely. It’s important to nurture the relationship to show you’re determined to help each other.
Serve as a resource when they have questions. Have lunch or coffee every quarter to see what’s new in their business. Keep them updated on new laws or trends that might affect their clients or on opportunities to partner or present.
Look at your referral partners as more than just a referral stream—recognize how they can add value to your clients. Clients love to feel like they’re being taken care of by a team of professionals.
Networking is all what you make of it. And you’ll get as much back out as you’ll put in if you know what value you bring to the table and what you are your clients are look for.