If you own a small business, or are part of a larger network marketing company, or are in sales, you have probably heard about business networking, and you may even have been encouraged to go to networking groups. However, very few people receive advance training, and when they go to networking events, they end up making mistakes that they later regret. So take a look at these very common errors, and learn what to do instead. That way, when you run into the people you met the next time, they will be pleased to see you, and even better, to help you!
Understanding the Purpose of Networking
You might have heard the adage that people do business with those they know, like and trust. Certainly that is the first reason to network. But there's a better reason, and that is because if people know you and know your business, you don't have to sell anyone; other people will sell for you. As an example, if your neighbor's car breaks down, and you happen to have an excellent mechanic, it's natural for you to recommend your mechanic. Now if you happen to also know a fabulous plumber, a great math tutor, an amazing insurance agent, and a lawyer better than Perry Mason, well, it's natural for you to recommend them also. And, in a nutshell, that is what business networking is: to build up a list of business associates to whom you can refer business.
Now you're thinking, "But that benefits them. How does that benefit me?" The answer is simple: at the same time that you are building your list, everyone else is building theirs, too. You want to make sure you are on everyone else's list. However, too many people end up not being on those lists, because of the mistakes they make.
If you learn only one thing before you go to a networking meeting, it should be this: Not everyone is your client! For example, people with no money, people who for whatever reason can't use your product or service (maybe they're moving to a different country next week), or they already have your product or service.
The point is not to sell one-on-one to everyone at the networking meeting. This is not a room full of prospects. After all, unless you are a salesman, that isn't your job (and yes, all small business owners are salesmen to some degree). Remember, you are not after one client; you are after a stream of clients originating from the person you are talking to. You shouldn't care if the person you are talking to becomes your client.
If you are having trouble with this concept, try to think about it from the other person's perspective. No-one likes to be sold to, and everyone especially hates the hard sell. If you try to sell to the person you're talking to at the networking meeting, you're almost sure never to get a referral from them. Instead, think of meeting that person at a networking group as training that person to be a part of your sales team. Instead, educate them about your product or service, so that when they meet someone who is a possible client for you, they can act to send that potential client to you, ready for the sale.
Too many people at networking events meet someone and immediately categorize the person they meet: "Oh, another __________ (choose one: insurance agent, realtor, financial planner, mortgage lender, piano teacher, etc.)." People are not cookie cutters, and don't come into their professions in the same ways. All lawyers are not alike, and that goes for every single profession out there. Instead, find out what is different about the person with whom you are talking. Every profession has its specialties, and you don't want to refer a divorce case to a criminal lawyer (at least we hope not). You'll find some people who are at the top of their field, and have a very narrow specialization; others will be somewhere in the middle, and others will be just starting out.
"I can help anyone . . ."
When you go to a networking meeting, especially if you are part of a larger network marketing organization, the probability is that the experienced networkers there may already know twenty or even fifty people who work for the same company. They may even have married someone who works for the same company or is in the same profession as yours. So how do you get referrals from that person?
The answer is that you must have a specialty. Rather than a cosmetics company representative saying, "I can help anyone with a face," figure out what your own specialty is. The more you can stand out, the more likely it is that people will remember you and refer business to you. And even if the person you meet is married to someone who works for the same company or profession, if you have an unusual specialization, you might get business from them because their spouse doesn't want to deal with that particular kind of client. Learn to stand out!
Focus on Yourself
Too many people at networking events go around passing out their business cards, and pointedly ignore the other person's card, or don't even bother to ask what someone does. This creates the wrong impression, because in addition to doing business with someone we know, like, and trust, there is another factor to consider. Someone in business is going to refer a client with whom they have a relationship: friend, neighbor, relative, or business colleague. If you appear to be focused only on yourself, you will give the impression that you won't be focused on your clients, either.
The problem with trying to get clients this way is that the person who refers business to you still has to deal with their friend, neighbor, relative, or business colleague long after your business with them is finished. So they are going to be very careful in their recommendations, because they will have to live with the consequences of their referrals.
Focus instead on the other person, and how you can send business to them. Why? Because if you send business to someone, they are more likely to send business to you. And the more business you can send them, the more likely they are to send business to you. If you are focused on others, the likelihood is that you will be focused on meeting your clients' needs, also, and people will be more likely to send you referrals.
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Don't Go Back
Too many people go to networking event, hand out their cards to everyone, disappear, and then complain they are not getting any business, and that networking doesn't work. Remember, people do business with people they know, like, and trust. If all someone does is hand their business card to you and disappear, how likely are you to trust them?
Most networking groups meet at least once a month; some meet every week. Usually, it will take several months of attendance before you get your first referral. Keep going back, and eventually people will start to feel that you are dependable enough to refer someone to you.
Don't Learn about Others
Let's face it, would you hire someone you met in a grocery store line wearing a company shirt?
No? People won't send business to you, either, unless they know you and feel they can trust you. And one of the best ways to get to know someone is to invite them out for coffee or lunch, and learn all you can about them and their business. Experienced networkers will also want to know you.
In addition to knowing about someone enough to send referrals to them, this meeting (often called a one-on-one), is a great way for you to find commonalities. Perhaps your two businesses are synergistic (that is, they are businesses that people often use together, such as an insurance agent and some kind of home repair). Perhaps you have a similar client base, such as families with children. Or maybe you have connections that can work together.
The formula for one-on-one meetings is usually 1/3 about me, 1/3 about you, and 1/3 about how to help each other. Allow at least an hour and be sure to follow up afterwards with an email, a quick note, or a small gift.
Don't Give Anything Away
Would you invest in an expensive product or service without sampling it or reading reviews? Probably not! By the same reasoning, people are going to be hesitant to recommend you unless you let them have an experience of your work. You should be prepared to give something away for free: a sample, advice, or something. Sure, you can give someone a brochure, and they will file it either in their filing cabinet, or the wastebasket. But giving someone an exciting experience will give them something to talk about to your potential clients, resulting in more business for you.
Putting it All into Practice
Before you go to your next networking meeting
Before your next networking event, figure out your specialization. Who is your ideal client and how do they find you? The next time you go to a networking event, ask the other person first: "What do you do?" Then ask more questions. Get their business card (you don't care if they get yours) and set up a one-on-one. Then find out when the next event for that group is, and go back and do it again!
In your one-on-one meetings, get to understand the other person's specialty. Put your heads together and figure out how your customer base or your specialties overlap (sometimes you might have to think about it for a while, but it's almost always there). Then offer the other person something for free. Not a discount, not a coupon, but really free, with no strings attached. You'll be astonished at the reception you receive!
Try this approach, and you'll be amazed at the results you'll see in just a few months. Here's to your business!