From the moment I stepped out of the world of the corporate employee 7 years ago, I was told by many wise people “ Vinay, you must network!”
So like a good boy I did what I was told.
I attended regular breakfast networking groups, went to lots of evening meetings and joined various associations.
To be perfectly honest it was a mixed bag of results.
There are people who will say “Networking is a waste of time” or “It doesn’t work. I’m not getting any business from it” and even “It doesn’t suit my business”.
If all that is true, then why do so many ‘business gurus’ wax lyrical about the importance of networking?
Well, I can only speak from my experience (of not being a business guru) and tell you that the one thing I know for certain is that networking does work.
In fact 95% of my business to date has come as direct result of networking and if I track back across my corporate career so have my biggest opportunities.
I said earlier my results were a mixed bag but that was because it took me a while to figure out what worked for me.
Of course there are approaches which will make what you do more or less effective .
Here’s my take on what has worked for me and others I know, aided by the characters from the 80’s hit US TV show “The A-Team.”
John ‘Hannibal’ Smith.
Networking should form a core part of your overall marketing plan.
A mistake business owners and professionals make is that they see networking as something outside of their marketing strategy and so they treat it as an ‘add on’ or a luxury activity that they dip into on occasion.
For networking to work it has to be a core activity and have a set of objectives aligned with your business/personal outcomes.
The trouble today is that there are so many networking events that you could end up becoming a full time networker and turn yourself into a busy fool.
Trust me on this, I’ve been there and it’s not a great place to be.
By having a clear set of objectives you will be able to better select which events suit you, your business and your market.
I ask myself these 3 questions when considering attending a networking event :
#1 Does this event sound like the kind of place where my target market would hangout or at least have people that are directly connected with it?
#2 Does this event look like the kind of place that the target market of my closest business friends hangout?
#3 Does this event look like the place where I am likely to meet like minded people who could become part of my power peer group to help me grow, become better and improve me as a human being?
If I cannot answer YES to at least two of those questions I don’t go.
Yes! I am being judgemental and perhaps I may miss out on opportunities but I am also increasing my odds of finding the right opportunity.
Figure out what is important to you in networking and set your own objectives .
Oh and leave lighting up the cigar until you leave the building.
Templeton “Faceman” Peck
Whilst you may not need to get your hands on a box of AK-47s, you will need to get past the defences of the people you are speaking to.
You need to master the art of building rapport with people.
Rapport is simply the art of creating commonality.
The more comfortable people are with you, the more they will open up.
There is a whole science behind rapport building but here are 3 ways to build rapport quickly:
It sounds so simple and obvious yet so many people underestimate the power of a smile.
Ask yourself when someone smiles at you, what do you do back? That’s right, you smile too!
A smile is disarming and let’s the other person know that it’s safe to talk to you.
You’d be surprised at the number people I see at networking events with crossed arms and frowns that also complain that they didn’t meet anyone useful.
Again simple yet underestimated in it’s power. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience a handshake “not only increases the positive effect toward a favorable interaction, but it also diminishes the impact of a negative impression.”
But be careful and pay attention to the kind of handshake you give.
Are you hand crusher? Wet Fish shaker? A hand-on-top kinda power player?
A good handshake feels deliberate but also neutral in force. You don’t want to crush their bones and you most definitely don’t want a feeble flap.
The kinaesthetic impact of a handshake creates an unconscious connection between people based on the premise that we only really ‘touch’ people we trust or feel safe with.
They have a name, so use it.
When you use somebody’s name it sends a signal to their brain for them to pay attention and listen to what is being said.
It also builds familiarity and you are less likely to have that embarrassing situation when, suddenly in the middle of the conversation you forget the other their name.
Here’s a bonus tip. If you cannot pronounce the name ask! It’s far more respectful to check the pronunciation that it is to make your own version up.
For example my name is Vinay and it is pronounced “Vee Nay” but I often get called “Vinny”. I don’t tend to make a big deal about it but I always have more time for someone who takes the time to find out the correct pronunciation.
Your name is a gift and the sweetest sound they will hear in any language.
To make an impact you’ve got to be prepared to step outside your comfort zone and be a little bit different – a little crazy maybe.
The worst thing you can do is blend in with the shades of grey. You might think it counter intuitive and safer to be like everyone else in the room but the moment you leave the event so will any memory of you.
When Hutchinson Telecom entered the UK mobile market they knew that in order to be successful they had to standout from their competition. They branded themselves Orange and separated themselves from the likes of BT Cellent, Vodafone and Mercury One 2 One.
In a similar way you want to make an impact and stay front of mind with people you meet long after they leave.
Here are 3 ways for how you can standout form the crowd and be remembered for the right reasons :
Your business card.
Your business card is one of the most important tools in your marketing tool box. Ditch the standard boring white card and get a little more creative. You could add some colour, a photo of yourself or a brand message on the reverse.
I went to a breakfast meeting where I met a Master Jeweller who talked about his expertise and craft with a passion. His card was a deep purple, on thick card and the lettering was in gold. It represented his brand perfectly. Do you think I’d have thought the same of him if he handed me a “get 250 free” Vistaprint card?
I was involved with an networking group called 4Networking years ago and their founder Brad Burton was famous for going to networking meetings with a pizza box under his arm. He was in the pizza business and it was a great conversation starter.
Another business friend of mine works in the fitness industry. At a recent expo instead of having the usual roller banner and marketing bumpf, he took with him life size cardboard cut outs of famous body builders. He asked visitors to his stand to take a picture with a cut out and post to social media.
A pizza box or cardboard cut out might not work for your business but there will be something which has the same kind of effect.
In one of the new working groups I used to run I had a guy who, instead of the usual 60 second introduction each week, would create a new limerick about his business. Another business owner had a catchphrase in her introduction, which after a short time become so memorable that group would repeat it before she even finished!
You might think that is unconventional and not the ‘proper way’ to introduce a business but look at what brands like Go Compare!, Compare the Market and Direct Line have done. They all have a jingle, catchy tagline or sound which is synonymous with their business.
At the very least you can find a way to use your introduction opportunity in a more expressive and compelling fashion than simply churning out the standard My name is. “Blah” and I am a “Blah”
B A Barracus
There is nothing worse that being trapped in a conversation when the other person is just talking about themselves. Don’t be that guy or gal.
You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You are supposed to listen more than you talk.
One of the most common questions I get from people about networking is “What do I talk about?” and I say “Don’t worry about what to talk about instead think of what you could ask about!”
The best networkers speak very little about themselves but ask great questions of others, taking a genuine interest in the people they are talking to.
I learnt a great tool to help with conversation from my uncle who was a successful insurance agent.
The key thing is that given the chance most people like to talk about themselves
Use F.O.R.M as a quick simple way of striking up conversation.
F – Family or Friends. Do they have kids? Are they married? Where are they from?
0 – Occupation – Ask them more about their profession. How did they get into the field? What do they enjoy most about what they do?
R – Recreation – What do they like to do when they aren’t working? Perhaps they play a sport that you also do?
M – Money No, don’t ask how much they earn! You might ask about what they think about the economy right?
The more you listen, the more opportunities you will uncover.
Ask questions instead…open questions which give you more than a yes or no answer.
One of my favourite questions to ask someone is “What exciting projects are you working on right now?”
Do you have any top networking tips? What has worked for you?