Successful networking is about forming and nurturing relationships to help each other’s business to succeed.
Once those relationships are created, opportunities for growth will follow.
“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill
To increase your chances of networking success, here are our top tips.
Learn to listen, and listen to learn.
Listen to other people’s business experiences and ideas for the future. Listen to learn how they’ve overcome obstacles so that you can perhaps apply solutions to your own business.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
Don’t be too quick to cut short a conversation so that you can get your point across. Take the time to really listen and understand what the other person is saying.
Also, listen to the needs and concerns of others so that you can find ways to help them. It’s important to be ‘present’. Give someone your full attention – you just might learn something to your advantage, and theirs.
Have a positive attitude.
Be confident and positive in your outlook and people will gravitate towards you. Even if you’re experiencing problems, you can still share these and ask for help in a manner that doesn’t display signs of self-pity or defeatism.
Rather, seek help with an attitude of belief and confidence that you’ll find solutions. People will be more eager to help if you’re not giving them a sob story. Having a negative attitude will only serve to drive away potential sources of referrals, whereas a positive attitude will attract people of influence to you.
Don’t be negative about other people either and don’t bad-mouth the network. People aren’t attracted to moaners. If you have valid concerns about something, approach the organisers or the leader of the group – they won’t bite. They might not have noticed and may thank you for pointing it out, or they might be working on solutions to that very problem. Just ask.
Everyone has a degree of self-interest when networking. But if you appear to be constantly looking out for number one, people will give you a wide berth and you’ll miss out on opportunities. However, if you go with the mindset of ‘How can I help someone today?’ you’ll find your generosity of spirit rewarded.
“If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.” – Zig Ziglar
If you’ve heard someone share a problem and know you can help, offer to help – don’t wait to be asked. If it’s something you can’t help with but you know someone who can; become a broker – networking is about building connections, so connect people with those business professionals who are in the best position to help them.
Just as you are hoping to receive referrals from networking, others are hoping for the same, so if you find someone worthy refer them.
You could also offer to become a mentor. Imagine if you could support a business owner to get over hurdles and help them to achieve great heights. How satisfying would that be?
Helping someone out doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, it could be a little thing like sending them an article you think will interest them. Being helpful will get you noticed and your chances of acquiring referrals and forging long-term business relationships will increase.
People can spot a fake from a distance, so don’t try to be something you’re not. It’s hard to sustain a fake persona so always be yourself. If your business isn’t doing so good, don’t pretend otherwise. If you’ve made mistakes own up – your mistake could help prevent others from making the same one. If you need help, ask. If, on the other hand, your business is flourishing, don’t be a show-off about it. Show some humility.
Always be honest and transparent and remain true to what you and your brand represent.
For example, District32 recently produced an article about Scottish brewery, BrewDog. The founders are confident, extrovert, outrageous and irreverent – one of them dressed up as The Queen for a promotional video – and each still received an MBE! The point is, is that’s who they are. Although their personal brand isn’t for everyone – and nor should it be – the guys have remained authentic to themselves and to their brand. (Incidentally, the guys were only 24 years of age when they started the business and it’s now worth £1b just 10 years later.)
It’s easy to imagine any networking event being a lively affair with these guys around!
Sharing your enthusiasm and passion about your product or service will attract attention. Sure, you can tell people about how great your product is by just ticking the boxes, but conveying real enthusiasm will attract and persuade more readily than words alone. People can’t help but be caught up by someone’s enthusiasm about a great product or service. So, share it. Your passion will also increase your likeability which is up there with trust when forging new relationships.
Be mindful, though. Your enthusiasm might not be shared, particularly if your business is more specialised and not easily understood by others.
Don’t use the hard sell.
If you network to ‘sell’ you will lose out. Sell yourself instead of your product or service. People buy from other people and provide referrals only if there is respect and trust. Demonstrate your trustworthiness by taking the time to get to know other business owners and for them to get to know you. Nurture relationships first and foremost. Being a pushy salesperson will push people away, not pull them in.
“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” – Zig Ziglar
Similarly, don’t foist your business cards on everyone you meet – they’re likely to end in the bin. Offer them only when someone shows an interest in you and your business. If you’ve received a business card, follow up on it – you never know where it might lead you.
Don’t bore people with a tired sales pitch. Be interesting. Tell a story instead. Use case studies that demonstrate how your product or service is helping people. How is your product making their lives easier? How much time does your service save them and in what way? By how much has their revenue risen since using your service? Answering questions like these via storytelling will be both enjoyable and memorable.
Prepare and rehearse your pitch so that when you’re introduced, you don’t waffle or go off on a tangent. Answer questions succinctly and to the point. Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability either – after telling the group about your business objectives, say why you need help from the network.
People will respond with positivity and helpful suggestions. And, you will be remembered for doing this.
If you want to stand out, always be professional, helpful and trustworthy. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons, that is; waffling, moaning or being negative.
When you find the right network for you, commit to making that network a success.
Help your network to help you.
- Become actively involved.
- Attend regularly.
- Help the organisers.
- Help organise events.
- Help other business owners.
- Become a mentor if you have sound knowledge to pass on.
- Make referrals.
Participating fully in this manner will help build your credibility and to establish yourself as a go-to person for people who want advice. Other business people will be impressed by your level of commitment and will seek you out to do business or make referrals.
If you’re a local business owner, you can elevate your status and reputation within your network by organising and participating in local community events and supporting local charities. Being visible in and out of the network helps your network to form an impression of who you are and what you represent. By demonstrating your value, others will be more trustful which will make them keener to collaborate with you.
Create an impression.
First impressions count. Be courteous. Dress appropriately. Be on time. Be respectful – don’t read your texts while someone is giving their pitch or you’re in a conversation. Don’t ever interrupt – unless there’s a fire! How do you feel when you’re speaking with someone and they look disinterested or bored or keep interrupting you? Not so good, eh?
Don’t hover. If you spot someone of interest but they are with a group of people, don’t hang around them. Either politely introduce yourself to the group, or remain at a respectful distance until you find the opportunity to approach them. Don’t interrupt a group discussion to single someone out for your attention – that would be rude.
Be confident. But, beware of being over-confident which can be interpreted as arrogance. Make sure you’re on the right side of the line. Don’t try to oversell yourself – be honest about you and your business.
Business networking doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be boring just because it’s about business.
Yes, business is serious. But we all need to have some fun too. The saying ‘never mix business with pleasure’ is far from the reality of what networking is about; it’s about achieving a healthy balance between the two.
It does serve as a warning, however – be careful of those networking events that take place in bars; you might have too much fun and not do enough business!
At District32, we realise how important it is for people to have fun at our meetings and events and always try to inject fun into the proceedings. If your networking group doesn’t have an element of fun, consider if it’s the right group for you.
Not everyone is confident in business. If you see someone who is struggling to mingle or sitting alone, introduce yourself. Encourage them to meet others. In doing so, you may help to build their confidence. Also, be on the lookout for anyone who isn’t their usual self or looking a bit sad and offer a kind word of encouragement. You don’t know what their personal circumstances are, so always be ready to help.
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” – Keith Ferrazzi
If someone’s business isn’t doing so well, offer to help them to work on solutions. Managing a business can be a lonely affair; without words of encouragement, business owners might become despondent and even be on the verge of giving up. Your support just might help someone to save their business.
This stage in the networking process, although often ignored, is essential for success. So many opportunities are thrown away because people fail to follow up after a networking event. If you’ve made a connection with someone, or perhaps exchanged business cards, make that follow-up call and invite them for coffee and a chat.
When away from a business environment, it can be easier to relax and engage in conversation. By initiating a one-to-one meeting, you’ll increase your chances of forging a successful business relationship or entering into a profitable joint venture.
Never refuse an invitation to a follow-up meeting – not only is this impolite, but you might also miss a fantastic business opportunity.
There’s no doubt that business networking can have a significant impact on business development and growth. Increased referrals, collaborative working, brand building, joint ventures, are but a few of the benefits that business networking can bring.
“Since being part of District32 we’ve been exposed to numerous new clients, dynamic entrepreneurs and amazing opportunities – that’s not to mention having access to some of the most exciting business people in Perth. I’m loving the journey and can only see a bright future for my company, for District32 and for the community in general.” (Member testimonial)
However, results don’t miraculously happen. If you’re serious about growing your business through networking, you need to contribute fully to the networking process. Just as your business won’t grow without hard graft, networking won’t pay dividends without serious effort. Like everything that’s worthwhile, the more you put it, the more you get out.
“A really important part of networking is actually about what you bring to the table – not just what you want to get out of it. Contribution is a big part of networking success.” – Gina Romero
If you’ve had poor networking experiences, it can put you off trying again, but perseverance can pay off – remember the District32 member we talked about earlier? While we don’t advocate ‘stalking’ a network for 12 months, it took this length of time for this business professional to feel confident in joining District32. Do your homework. Try different types to find one that fits your needs.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” – African Proverb
Hopefully, this guide will enhance your networking experience and help you to network with confidence. More importantly, to help you grow your business.