(Related: 5 Business Networking ‘Musts’)
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 audios. 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.
1. 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, 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.
2. 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.
3. Introduce yourself.
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!
4. 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 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?”
5. 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 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.
6. Make it fun.
OK, you must have fun! Or at least try to have fun. One way to make your conversations fun is to talk about fun things. Obvious, I know.
As a boxer, I find myself approaching those at events that seem active and fit. This way, I know I have a common bond when discussing sports, fitness, and my love for boxing. I’m just as excited learning about how others stay active and keep in shape. As you go to events, see if you can find people that have an interest in the same activity, hobby, or even television show (especially when there’s a season or series finale!) as you. Of course, you may need to find a hobby first.
7. Discuss next steps.
Is there a reason to follow up and stay in touch? If so, discuss it. “So how do you see us potentially learning more and helping each other?” Take the initiative to exchange business cards and make a promise to follow up or follow through on that promise. Maybe you need to schedule a follow up meeting. Connect on LinkedIn. Whatever it is, you be the one to handle it. Never rely on the other person. And do it in the next 24 hours or that business card will be stacked with the others on your desk.
8. Know when to bail.
You won’t have an easy time talking to everyone you meet. Sometimes you just don’t click with someone you’ve met. No big deal. It happens to everybody! Ask some basic questions about their profession and interests and if you’re not feeling the love in a couple of minutes, say your goodbyes and find someone else to talk to. Keep in mind, if you don’t feel you click with them, they don’t feel like they click with you either. So again, say your goodbyes and bail. “Very nice to meet you. Good luck today and I’ll see you again soon!”
That’s pretty much it! Easy, right? Now, here’s the heavy bag part.
9. Review your performance.
You must reflect on the event after you get home or back to the office. How did it go? How could it have gone better? Did you “sell” rather than “network”? Did you speak to everyone you wanted to? Did you forget anyone’s name? Did you say anything stupid? Did you forget to collect someone’s business card? Did you do a good enough job explaining what you do and who you’re looking to meet? Did you have fun?
Think about all the ways you’ll do better the next time. Maybe even write some notes as reminders. Plan for your next event. Register for it NOW if possible – get it in your calendar! And when you attend the next time, focus on the areas that you think you want to improve. You may want to get better at introducing yourself, remembering names, asking to exchange business cards, asking questions, following up, and so on.
Go through this exercise every time you attend an event and you’ll get more effective while building your confidence – not to mention your business! If you can, get feedback from others that you’re getting to know at the event about how you’re coming across and ways you might improve.
And you will!
— Read 7 Business Networking Reminders, on ThinkAdvisor.