Do you suck at networking, or think those around you do?
Maybe you’ve never set foot in a networking group – and prefer to think of as a ‘cult’.
Perhaps you’ve been once or twice, wondered what the hell was happening, and scarpered, shrugging at its ‘cliqueyness’ as you went.
What if you’re a seasoned networker like me? It’s natural to feel a little jaded now and again isn’t it? I’ve been networking for (count ‘em) 15 years on and off.
It has been worth it. I won a contract worth a lot of money as a result of an enquiry at my third-ever meeting. This allowed me to start to build a team and invest in rented business premises. I think I may have been trying to replicate that particular deal for more than a decade!
I won an award for an ‘outstanding contribution’ last week.
An arguably more meaningful prize is five new customers I’m in the midst of signing up, each of them directly through networking.
I’m also networking online these days at the UKNC on facebook – where each week so far, I’ve been reliably informed I’m either the busiest or ‘most engaging’ member, or both.
In other words I talk a lot. It’s no accident – my job is communicating. I thought it was only right to raise my own profile.
I’ve joined 4N and the ‘newbie’ experience is an eye-opener – in a good way.
Here are my five bad habits to quit, to help take your networking to another level:
This reminds me of a slimming club – how bad did I feel when a fellow dieter stepped on the scales to reveal a whopping half a stone loss in a week, when I’d inevitably shed a paltry half a pound? It’s the same with networking – a marathon (yes, definitely not a Snickers) not a sprint. This is especially true where there’s what’s known as a contributions round. This tends to come at the end of the meeting. Everyone is expected to tell the room how they can help their fellow members that week. So what if the lovely mortgage adviser next to you brings referrals for everyone in the room that morning? You might only have one – but it could be very valuable indeed.
In networking you hear a lot of talk of ‘hunters’ versus ‘farmers’ with the thought of sowing seeds for future growth making the real difference. Someone who brings a brilliant single referral is likely to be an excellent farmer with a great harvest on the horizon. It’s all about building relationships – and how profitable they can be in the long run, not just a quick fix with an impressive amount of possible business flagged up at one meeting.
My latest BNI award certificate.
Competing instead of collaborating
Sigh. How much time is wasted in groups when potentially rival businesses moan about the fact that another member – shock horror – does the same as them amid all the other services they offer? Dwell on this and you are missing the point. Guess what – they can work together. This was illustrated perfectly by social media supremo Mark Northall at 4N Cannock last week when he praised social media expert Fritha Stuttard and revealed how he has been able to pass her work.
In BNI so-called ‘power teams’ accelerate business opportunities for similar companies to work hand-in-hand. That could be insurance brokers whose services may cross over, IT consultants with different specialisms or financial advisers operating in similar areas of experience. Sure, I’ve also a history in social media but I’d welcome another supplier to my group and grow our businesses together through an effective marketing or business services power team. How? It’s very straightforward – by sharing contacts and collaborating. Put simply, I know lots of people and so do they. By finding someone to carry out linked services who we like and trust, we are helping our existing customers and opening doors to new ones.
Yeah yeah, we’ve heard it all before. If you have an issue, get it resolved and move on. So the meeting starts too early? Too late? Too often? Not often enough? It’s too formal? Too relaxed? The breakfast is rubbish? Why not have a polite word or find a group you actually do love? There are lots out there, honest. Your success depends on how you gel with others in the same group and how convenient it is for you, so if it doesn’t feel right from the start, it probably isn’t.
What’s the worst that can happen? Keep looking and go for it. If you want to do business when your competitors are asleep, a breakfast meeting may be ideal. If you have childcare to think about, you can find loads of meeting possibilities scheduled exactly to help you. My wonderful late business partner set up a lunchtime group in Staffordshire and friendships forged are still going strong. Sometimes networking is about a lot more than business passed.
There also seems to be a lot of criticism of ‘rival’ groups, depending on which one you go to. I’m not a fan of said nitpicking – certainly when it comes from someone who has never set foot in a different type of meeting. Unless you are a small business owner living under a rock you will have heard the saying ‘people buy off people’ – so it’s not rocket science to know that so much of the success of a group comes down to the people in it. That’s irrespective of the initials making up its name.
Quit making it up as you go along. Go back to basics with a plan. How much work do you want to win from your networking activity and how are you going to do it? How does it fit in with your business plan or your marketing plan? Avoid saying your target client is “Anyone who…” Be specific – not just in case someone says they know them but also in case they know someone like them – in the same role but for a different similar organisation. So you might say: ‘I’d like to speak to Alison Jones, HR director, PumpitUp sportswear, based in Newcastle.’ This reminds people they may not know Alison, but they know another HR director, or someone at another sportswear company or even another firm in Newcastle. They should then ask you if they may be of interest to you to speak to. There’s also a genuine chance that Alison is a family friend or relative for someone listening when you ask for an introduction – yes really and I have seen this happen plenty of times.
Put work in outside the meeting instead of just turning up and hoping for the best. Follow up on those thoughts you had while your group colleagues were speaking. Keep in touch with them on social media, like and comment on their posts, share recommendations or their interesting news. All of this helps keep you visible and credible. Why should anyone help you if all you do is attend the meetings? Do you have a Whatsapp group? Why not keep in touch that way? Flag up requests for recommendations on LinkedIn that could be opportunities for your networking contacts. What goes around comes around…
Vicki and Adam at my weekly networking meeting.
Think big businesses don’t bother with networking? Wrong! My own former company has a simple example of this with our biggest national customer coming from a BNI referral. I know this is happening in 4N too. So what if they aren’t in the room? You’re speaking to people each week who do fantastic work for multi-million pound concerns – and it’s them you have to convince. A warm introduction to the right department at your dream client’s headquarters says so much more than a cold call.
I think it’s important to remember that people who turn up week-in, week-out at networking meetings are showing how dedicated and trustworthy they are. Who would attend if they were doing a crap job? It’s like membership is an on-going quality control. What major organisation doesn’t want suppliers it can rely on?