How’s Your Networking Working?

By Ron Gibson

Networking is your highest return on investment marketing activity. It gets you the best results for the least amount of time, money and energy. Networking will do more to grow your business than advertisements, mailings, cold calling, social media and web marketing COMBINED! No question, it’s where you should focus the bulk of your marketing efforts.

Now, networking isn’t anything new. It’s the oldest, most established form of marketing in the book. It’s about making connections, building relationships and having those people refer clients to you or become clients themselves. It couldn’t be much simpler.

 The only people for whom networking doesn’t work are the people that don’t do it. If you engage in building your network—if you go out into the community and get to know people—you WILL get referrals, you WILL get clients, you WILL grow your business.

Networking just plain, simple, straight out works!

 A big part of networking is attending events. These might be after-hours meetings hosted by your local chamber of commerce, lunches organised by industry groups, business breakfasts and the social side of conferences, seminars, exhibitions and trade shows. Then you’ve got your sporting occasions, corporate hospitality events, fundraisers, political functions and community gatherings.

When you’ve got a business to grow (or revenue numbers to hit), you need to get out and about, meeting people and developing relationships. Interacting with people at live events is the fastest, surest way to get a relationship rolling.

 Are you struggling to make your networking work for you? Do you hate going to networking events and try to avoid them as much as you can? Do you feel like you’re wasting time (or your time is being wasted) when you talk to/meet the wrong people at networking events?

I’ve been going to networking events for over three decades now and along the way I have developed some effective strategies and tactics that I hope you will find helpful.

These are my top 20 rules for getting the most out of going to networking events.

1. I shake hands and make eyes. It’s a firm squeeze (but not too firm) and I look directly in the eye for 2 or 3 seconds.

2. I smile. I find that by giving a smile I get one back. We’re friends fast.

 3. I make the first move. I’m typically the first to say hello. I introduce myself to the first person that catches my eye, knowing that s/he wants to meet me. That’s why they are there. I found that the most effective conversation starter is a friendly “Hello, how are you? I’m Ron” or simply, “Hello, I’m Ron”. They are my go-to openers and 99 times out of 100 that is all it takes to set someone at ease and allow a conversation to begin. Sometimes I use context. For example, “How’s the wine?” “How’s the food?” “Having a good time?” Or, I’ll comment on the venue or the occasion. “What a cool/great/amazing venue. Have you been here before?” or “Are you a regular at these things?” Being the one to step up and introduce yourself shows that you’re just another ‘real’ person attempting to get to know another. Once this is done, the possibilities of a relationship just got better. And regardless of the outcome, you have opened yourself up to the opportunity you would never had if you had not made the first move.

 3.5 And I don’t even wait to get inside. I start making friends in the lift. “We must all be going to the same place.” Then I introduce myself.

4. I focus on common ground. My goal is to find a link—something we have ‘in common’. Anything from kids, to holidays, to sports, to restaurants, to music, to cars. Anything at all. The key is to find that one small thing, that slice of overlap between you and them and run with it. Personal things in common makes it easier to establish rapport, trade stories, bridge into deeper conversations and leads to a friendship, a relationship and eventually, lots of business.

5. I ask more than I tell. The exact questions I ask will depend on the circumstances and what I already know about the person. But questions that have always worked for me are, “Where are you from?” “Where did you grow up?” “How did you get started in business/your career?” “Have you got any kids?” “What do you like to do in your downtime?” “How’s business?” “How are things going professionally?” “What are you hoping to gain from this meeting/conference?” If you do nothing but go on about yourself and what you think people aren’t going to warm to you. They’ll tune out. Ask thoughtful questions about who they are and what’s important to them. Get them to talk about their day or why they’re attending the event. Once you’ve given them time to share their story, they will give you the time to share yours. You’ll find more of my favorite questions (and follow-up questions) for networking events in my article, Better Questions, Better Networking Conversations.

6. I listen hard. I spend very little time talking about me, except to communicate what I do for who and why I do what I do. The more information I have about them, the better (and easier) I find it is to establish rapport, follow up, build the relationship and ultimately, win their business.

6.5 And listen with a view to GIVING something rather than a view to GETTING something. Assign a small part of your brain to answering the question “What can I do for this person? Keep that part of your brain scanning for ideas. When you finish the conversation, you’ll have the answer.

I’m not telling you what to do, but rather sharing with you what works for me and what will make it easier for you.

7. I go to give. Everyone goes to a networking event to better themselves in one way or another. I’m always prepared to help someone else get better. When I’m talking to people a part of my brain is thinking, “I want to learn about this person and see how I may be able to play a role in their success.” Giving may involve sharing information, being a resource, helping them solve a problem or challenge, offering support, connecting them with someone in your network, providing leads, articles of interest or something meaningful to the person, giving a reference or being a customer. The best practice for any relationship is to be a giver before you’re an asker; before you ask for an introduction or a lead or a meeting or help of any kind. If you give before you ask, you will significantly increase the likelihood of your getting something of value. Build trust and make a friend first. I recommend you adopt a similar mindset. This is what makes networking work for you.

Look to do something nice for the people you meet and then act on it.
What goes around comes around. You can’t escape karma.

 7.5 Give to give. Don’t give to get. I’m talking about giving without the expectation of getting anything in return. Give simply because it feels good to you. I discovered long ago that when I give more than I take, I receive more than I want.  

8. Know where to go. I go where my clients and prospects (and the people who serve my clients and prospects) go or are likely to be. I ask my clients and prospects where they go to network and that’s where I go.

If you say, “I go to networking events, but I don’t meet the right people”, it means you’re not networking where your prime prospects might be.

9. I don’t just look for prospects and clients. I think of every person I meet as someone who could refer clients to me or help me gain valuable information. I make friends, build rapport and provide value to everyone, without prejudging or qualifying them. You never know who might have a client or friend in need of your product or service or what sort of business intel will spring up.

If you say, “I go to networking events and I see little or no return”, it means you’re not following these fundamentals.

 10. I show up early. That way I can talk to people under more relaxed circumstances and in smaller, more manageable groups before everyone arrives and the event is in full swing. Arriving early means I usually get to meet the host/s. I like to ask them what I can expect, if there are any tips they can give me and who are the people that I should meet. This gives me clues as to how I should ‘work’ the event instead of winging it.

 11. My message is clear. When someone asks me what I do, I don’t ramble on for minutes. In just a few seconds I say what I do, why I do it and who I help. If people want to know more I tell them a couple of very short stories: (I) My perfect client’s story, which is about them being busy, but not making enough money; and (II) My story, which is about why I do what I do. I discovered that when I eventually got my message ‘right’ I started connecting with people more authentically and getting a lot more referrals and business.

 12. Seize the moment. I make sure that I take a ‘next step’ if the opportunity is there. If it has been a promising conversation, I will try to book a call/meeting/coffee on the spot. Otherwise, it could also be anything from a simple business card exchange, to an offer to send some relevant info, an invitation to a social event or facilitate an introduction. I want to make certain that I have achieved my objective before I move on to the next person. What’s my exit-line? “I’m going to meet some other people now”, accompanied by the appropriate pleasantry.

12.5 I’m always connecting. Whenever I interact with someone on a level that’s more than just exchanging pleasantries, I get their contact info (usually business card) so I can do the follow-up work later. You never know how you can help either them or they can help you.

 13. I scribble a lot. The minute I’m away from the person, I write down (on their business card) what the next steps are and any other pertinent info. I don’t rely on my memory.

 14. I don’t expect much right away. Relationships are cultivated, not hatched. I don’t treat an initial meeting like a transaction. If I see a potential relationship to be had I know the first meeting is just the first meeting. For that stranger to end up as a client or strategic partner it is essential that the first meeting lead to a second and even a third, a fourth, a fifth and then perhaps even more. I know I must build trust with people, in order for them to buy from me/hire me and refer business to me. But in the beginning making friends, building rapport and providing value set the stage for future communication and success.

 15. I don’t linger with friends. I prefer to spend most of my time at networking events with people I don’t know. The reason is that I tend to make ‘small talk’ with people I know and ‘bigger talk’ with people I don’t know. My view has always been, small talk leads to small business or no business, and big talk leads to big business or the opportunity for big business.

16. There’s no time to waste. The choice is yours as to how you invest your time at a networking event. I normally set myself the task of having four or five good conversations as well as meeting the key people I set out to meet. Then I call it quits saying, if asked, that I have somewhere else I need to be. Having a goal of meeting a certain number of people is a great strategy to help you make the most of the limited amount of social time you have.

17. I don’t get trapped. This is where a lot of people trip up. Don’t get too deep with any one person. If it’s a conversation that’s worth continuing, then it’s best to have it later in a one-on-one setting. Say something like, “I’d enjoy getting together again. Can I shout you a coffee sometime?”

 18. I follow up immediately. Networking doesn’t stop with meeting people for the first time. The rewards come from following up and staying in touch. The secret to effective follow-up is to provide value to your new friend. Something, anything that will help them grow, win, score, make money or otherwise better themselves. Major clue: Send them something, invite them to something or introduce them to somebody. Just be sure it’s customised to their needs.

 18.5. Lack of follow-up is the most common ‘error’ in networking. Few people do something with the contacts they established at an event. They continually go to events, go back to the office and the cards they have collected sit in a pile. What a shame! Look at how much business is lost, and the waste of time going to the event for no results.

72% of mainstream business is lost because of lack of follow-up.

19. Follow up or be forgotten. Meeting someone once is rarely enough to bring you business. Repeated contacts are what do the trick. (And in sales, it takes seven exposures, seven tries to get the prospect to become a customer: if you quit after just one or two, the sale will go to the next person who shows up.)You’ve got to find ways to stay in front of people over time. Some will buy today, most will buy later. Similarly, some will refer today, most will refer later.

I didn’t coin this expression, but I like it so much I’ve hijacked it: fix your follow-up, and you’ll fix your cash flow.

60% − 85% of your future clients are 90 days out from doing business with you.

20. Just do it. And keep doing it. “I don’t have time to go to networking events.” 6 “I’m too busy with work”. I hear that a lot. No more excuses. REALITY: Without continually getting out and meeting people you will struggle to hit your numbers and grow your business. Whatever your tasks and schedule, you’ve got to make networking events a priority. Once you make meeting people a priority, you’ll find the time.

I’ve just given you a few pointers, some guidelines and the rules that I have been following for more than 30 years. There are other ‘rules’ and you can find them in my e-books, on my website and in my seminars and workshops, but these will help you make connections, set appointments, build relationships, attract referrals, and ultimately win a lot of business. If you’d like to dig into a bit more detail, just drop me an email and I’d be happy to chat over a coffee or the phone.
Ron Gibson| Go Networking | 0413 420 538

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