I met a financial advisor about two years ago. Recently, he contacted me by email out of the blue. He was struggling in the first year of his practice and felt if he didn’t get help fast, he would fail. After a quick search about “how to be better at networking,” he found me.
We chatted on the phone for a while. He read my book. Listened to my audio. And I spent some time with him on the phone over a two month period.
As it turned out, he did in fact fail at being a financial advisor. (Clearly, I’m not very good.)
He emerged in another sales role outside of financial services: salary, partial commission, the whole thing. He was invited to the launch of a networking group which seemed like a good opportunity for him. The attendees were there “by invitation only” and there was nobody else in the group that sold his products and services. In fact, the group was made up of successful business owners and service providers that were great at networking.
He showed up to the event early and left before it began. It simply wasn’t for him. When he was asked about it later, he said he didn’t think anyone in the group could help him.
After all the time he spent learning how to network, the guy never learned how to network.
In boxing, you could try to improve your left jab by watching videos of Larry Holmes. But you get so much more out of trying to apply what you’ve learned by going to the gym and throwing that left at the heavy bag under the watchful eye of a trainer. You’ll master that punch through repetition, feedback, and more repetition.
That’s how you develop and improve any skill – repetition, feedback, and more repetition.
Networking is about learning and helping others connect. If you’re successful, those you help will help you right back – that’s networking!
Outside of throwing more shoulder into your jab, here are nine basic approaches to help you improve your networking skills. That is, if you’re willing to work the bag.
Find the right event
First and foremost, you don’t need to go to events (cocktail parties, chamber mixers, fundraisers, association meetings, business card exchanges, golf outings, conferences or trade shows) to be an effective networker. You can make calls and send emails to clients and referral sources you already know. But if your goal is to get better at networking, you must find an event that aligns with the people you like and the business you’re looking to do.
Dare to be different
Financial advisors are a dime a dozen! Not really, but that’s the perception of others that attend networking events. Think about it. How many financial advisors show up to monthly chamber mixers? Exactly! So find a way of differentiating yourself. Become known for one area of expertise that you’re passionate about – long-term care is a great example. Focus on a target market that’s interesting and distinctive. Get involved as a board member. Head-up a committee. Run seminars. Make it your business to introduce those you like to others you like – be a connector! Be the first to sign up for events and fundraisers. The best ways of differentiating yourself are to be great at what you do, passionate, reliable, genuinely interested in helping others, and to get involved.
In amateur boxing, you get points for being the first to throw punches. “Firing first” sets the tone, develops momentum, and builds your confidence. So, fire first! Be the first to offer an introduction and show others that your intention is to meet people and help them. Once you get going, you may find others clamoring to introduce themselves to you!
Ask great questions
Let’s get back to introducing yourself for a moment. Often, the thing that prevents people from introducing themselves is not knowing what to say next. It sounds basic, I know, but it’s true. This is where asking great questions comes in!
So what kind of work do you do? How did you learn of this event? Do you know anyone here? Are you a first timer here? How are you different from others in your profession? How do you get most of your business? What does a typical prospect look like for you? How about a typical client? Who is in the best position to refer you? If I were to meet someone at this event that you should meet, how would I know? Outside of work and attending events, what do you do for fun? What can I do to help you? (Only ask this last question if you really like them!)
These should be enough to get you started. If you’re lucky, you’ll be asked the same questions right back! “How about yourself?”
Talk about your business
Yes, this is elevator speech time. But keep what you have to say about your work short, sweet, and to the point. Stay focused on what you do, not necessarily how you do it. Also, focus on the who, as in who you want to meet. Again, try to stay away from the how; otherwise you’ll get into details that may bore others. If those you meet ask specific questions, certainly give specific answers, but you want to be informative while keeping the conversation out of snooze-ville.