I get asked quite a bit about networking and the relation to job search and personal branding. Sometimes it’s about where to find good networking events, sometimes it’s more about how to approach the whole networking thing. Networking is second nature to some people and it’s a bit foreign to others. Once you have developed and positioned yourself in your personal brand it’s time to go out and meet some people and make an impact with it I say.
Why should you be networking?
Did you ever hear the mantra that “people buy from people they know, like and trust”? This is as true as it ever was. But to get trusted you have to be liked, to be liked you have to be known… How do you get to know customers in the first place? Well, a networking event is a great forum for it. This is where people come out for the very reason to meet people, share ideas, and in a way sell themselves.
At a networking event, you are showcasing yourself, your expertise, and ultimately your personal brand. There is plenty of networking advice out there, I have come up with three things that have worked well for me over the years, and here goes:
1. Listen and then ask the right questions
The golden rule at a networking event or any other business interaction for that matter is to listen more than you talk. This is classic sales stuff that everyone should know. If you think about the really successful people in your life, are they very chatterboxes or are they listeners? I would think the latter. Do they ask the right questions? I would think they probably do.
You will only reach success when you understand what other people really want. Sometimes you will get people asking for your services but not knowing exactly why. This is your job to listen and make sure they know their reasons for it and what they are trying to achieve. If you think about it, what salesperson would you buy a camera from; the one talking at you and selling feature after feature, or the other one asking what you are going to use it for?
Being an active listener and asking the right questions sounds like simple stuff but it can be harder to actually do. Active listening takes effort but when you do it the right questions will pop up and the payback is there.
2. Partner up with the competition
You will inevitably bump into people doing similar things to you at networking events. Instead of the Mexican stand-off which sometimes happens, try to find out where there can be synergies between the two of you.
Let’s say that you sell ice-cream for instance and you get talking to another ice-cream salesperson. Do you work in the same location? Do you sell the same flavors? Do your customers have the same demographic? Same pricing? Probably not on most of these questions. This means you can share information on suppliers, discuss general market conditions and you can even set up a joint venture, and seek global ice-cream domination.
If you are a solopreneur, your success will depend on fitting into an ecosystem of other consultants and freelancers. Make yourself useful to them and help out as much as possible; your efforts are always appreciated and you will be repaid at some stage.
You will invariably bump into and sometimes lock horns with the competition at client sites. The networking event provides a ‘safe’ environment where you can practice interaction with the competition without causing too much damage in front of a customer.
3. Hunters vs. farmers
We have all been there. You get chatting to someone with a big smile from ear to ear. They are hyper friendly and rather quickly state their business while scanning the room for their next prey. They hand over their business card and expect you to reciprocate; they then make an excuse and move on to the next person.
This person will go home that night and count up the number of cards they got and more crucially, how many of their own cards they handed out. These people are called hunters, meaning they are only interested in a quick chat and exchanging cards. Study after study shows that this approach doesn’t work but some folks do it as handing out cards feels like an achievement.
Farmers, on the other hand, understand the value of knowing, liking, and trusting people. They know that business relationships grow over time and they are prepared to bide their time.
They say that all you need is twenty people in your network if you nurture it well. These twenty people may take many networking events to get right but the farmer knows that having a real connection with one person is much stronger than shallow chats with hundreds.
In practical terms, when you start out on the networking circuit it’s probably difficult to know who’s who. When you see the same faces a few weeks in a row you’ll know who the farmers are – and where you need to put your energy. The fact that the farmers are laid back, very comfortable with networking, and genuinely interested in people certainly will certainly help you on the way.
That’s three tips that have worked for me, hope they are of use to you. Now, what are your best networking tips? Please share your thoughts!
Related reading: 5 Great Ways NOT to Network.