New Business? Nothing Is More Effective Than …
For start-ups, nothing is more effective than face-to-face networking when trying to raise new business. When I started my business, my customer list grew from zero to twenty-two in the first 3 years. In the fourth year, after I focused on face-to-face networking, my business grew from 22 clients to 54, 146% increase!
Unless you’re a natural extrovert, face-to-face networking might present a challenge. And, by the way, these would be similar challenges to a starting aversion to selling. If that describes you, you’re not alone. So what will help you get started?
Belief in the value of what you offer is critical to your self-confidence. But that said, the primary objective of networking is relationship building. While your ultimate motivation is doing business, selling, product or service promotion, you first need to get known trusted and liked.
Some Networking Tips
Face to face networking is more akin to farming than hunting. So think “seeds” and not “bullets”.
So, you attend a “networking event” which puts you into a room of strangers except for the person who may have invited you. Here’s what to do.
If you engage with one person – stick out your hand, smile and say “Hello”! And then ask an open structured question like, “What brought you here today?” By engaging and listening you open the door to learn something about the stranger, their interests and their needs. You will discover mutual topics of interest and ways to contribute a helpful reference or relate a similar experience you have had. If and when you discover areas of mutual interest that may lead to business STOP and book a follow-up one to one meeting outside of the networking environment.
2-6 people – introduce yourself and your company, listen, contribute an idea or ask a question (on the topic being discussed.) Establish yourself as a group resource. It will establish your personal value. It will mark you as a “go to” person.
A room full – introduce yourself and your company and ask the best damn question you can think of! (on the topic being discussed.) An open question invites response from several people (most people like to help). To the extent your question is perceived of as “astute”, some will want to speak with you individually and possibly seek your business advice.
Get That Stranger To Talk
The key to initial networking contacts is to get the person or persons you choose to engage to speak first. Remember that most of the strangers in the room are probably feeling more awkward then you are. You can relieve their anxiety by asking them to talk about themselves. And don’t start with, “What do you do?”. Better to leave the choice of conversation opened and relaxed like, “What or who brought you here today?”
If and when the conversation turns to business topics, talk “helping” versus “selling”. Like, “I can help you with that.” Best to know that once you approach the business trail you should not be discussing that in a networking environment. Leave and go to a private place or schedule a firm, follow-up appointment.
No Verbal “Fire Hoses” Allowed
Networking takes practice. The more you do the easier it gets. I’ve gotten better at networking over the years by observing others, sharpening my story and by trial and error. Realize when you engage someone and they tell you about themselves and what they are up to, the questions will come the other way. In a networking environment, the repeated “30 second” pitch takes on a different style. That is, respond to questions incrementally. So here’s an example:
Stranger: “So what do you do”?
Me: “I bring entrepreneurs and start-up businesses to market.”
Stranger: “How do you do that?”
Me: “I help make them ready for the funding they will need.”
Stranger: “What’s involved”?
Me: “Most entrepreneurs are so seduced by their “great idea” that they don’t get where the prospective investor is coming from. They don’t know the questions the investor will ask and/or what answers the investors needs to hear. My company gets them ready for a highly cynical series of questions.”
Notice, I could have said everything and more after the stranger’s first question. By carrying on the dialogue in an incremental manner I was able to:
- Gage the level of interest
- Respond to exactly what the listener wanted to know
- Assure that the listener was actually listening (remember I was responding to their questions)
- Not have my listener drinking from a verbal firehouse after what they thought was a simple question
Talk Less, Listen More
Bottom line: carry on a listener centric dialogue. Don’t be afraid to check on how you are doing by asking, “Did I answer your question?” or “What else would you like to hear?”
I’ve been networking for several years. While it didn’t come naturally at first, I find it easy and rewarding now. Face-to-Face networking has become my “go to” best tools for growing my business through growing relationships. And of course, the unspoken benefit is the rate of conversion of casual encounters to good and valuable business friends.
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