“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
No doubt you’ve heard that saying bandied about in the business world? And whether we want to believe it or not, it remains true in virtually every industry.
To be clear, we’re not talking about cronyism or nepotism. No, what we are highlighting here is that people like to deal with people; which logically means that if you make a great impression on someone then they are more likely to want to do business with you.
However, this knowledge tends to change this common phrase then, from “Who you know” to “Who knows you.”
This brings us nicely to the subject of networking events, and how we can make the best use of them to grow our business and personal brand.
If the thought of shameless self-promotion and making small talk with a group of strangers makes you want to hide under a rock, rest assured that you’re not alone. Many business people feel that they are fundamentally lacking in their ability to “go out and meet people” as we’re so often encouraged to do.
Networking events, though, tend to place everyone in the same boat and make a tricky task just that much easier.
So how can we make networking events work for us?
Define Your Key Objectives and Strategy
Before attending a networking event, it’s a worthwhile endeavour to make a note of what you want to gain from it.
For example, is direct business the most important thing? Perhaps your focus is brand awareness, promotions, or sponsorship? Without a strategy, you may find these events to be a waste of your valuable time and energy.
The great news, however, is that networking is a multifaceted business tool and can morph into whatever you need the most.
Many business networks will have an introductory or promotional system in place whereby you can talk to the group about who you are and what you do. Some skip this in favour of a simple 60-second member introduction.
If you do have the chance to talk to the group about your business, albeit briefly, then this is an excellent opportunity to pull out all the stops and prepare something awesome.
It’s certainly worth noting that your audience is likely to only remember a small percentage of what you say, so the trick is to close with the most important points that you want to stick.
To get leads or recommendations from the group, you will need to be very clear about what you offer and how it benefits them. Direct business from a networking group is always possible once you’ve built a solid foundation of likeability and trust.
Yes, getting immediate business is great, but if that’s your only revenue source then you’re fishing in a very shallow pond.
Referrals are what make networking groups such a great tool.
Business groups are very much in the “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mindset. This is an excellent place to be if you are looking for referral business but in order to get you need to give first.
If you are confident in the services or products of a fellow networker, then make a point of recommending them. And let them know you’ve done so. This closes the circle and makes receiving referrals much more likely.
However, you must be sure to follow up timeously on all referrals sent your way!
Helping others is a sure-fire way to grow your value in your networking circle; people are more likely to want to give back if they see that you are putting yourself out for them.
What does helping others look like in a practical sense?
Can you mentor someone and guide them through some of the pitfalls that you’ve experienced? Are you able to offer a trade swap to assist someone in a certain area? Can you add value to another’s offering?
Listening carefully to what people are saying and discerning what they need puts you in the perfect position to give of yourself.
Many business networks are made up of a collection of smaller businesses and not necessarily major international brands. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make people aware of your brand.
Your brand may just be you, but it’s also what you stand for, what your values are, how you do business, and your overall mission.
It’s important that all the elements that you present – from your business card to your dress and grooming – all feed into promoting your unique brand. When people engage with you, make sure that you have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready to give them a simple overview of what you’re all about. Ensure that you are friendly, open, honest, and charismatic – and to be yourself.
Sponsorship/Fundraising (as relevant to charities)
Networking events are an excellent place to secure sponsors/fundraising if that’s what you’re looking for.
If this is you, then preparing key information beforehand will make achieving your objective far easier. For example:
- Make sure that your offering and strategy is very clear to potential sponsors.
- Consider who will be at the event and if they are likely to be interested in seasonal promotions or events which coincide with their important events. This makes your pitch more compelling and relevant to them.
- Ensure that you have all the data to back up your request and that they can quickly see the benefits.
Winning at Networking
Networking needn’t be stressful or difficult. In fact, understanding that others are also a little nervous and may find it nerve-wracking will make the process easier for you.
Of course, besides the above-mentioned recommendations, the key way to win at networking is to be yourself; be authentic, helpful, generous and transparent.
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