The Networking Myth
When I first started my business, I heard about this magical way of selling things and all you had to do was turn up and be fabulous… Networking!
This was going to be my thing and I was going to excel at it. I was fearless, confident, a great talker and I had a lot to offer. Surely when I turned up everyone would see how fantastic I was and what I offered was unique and wonderful… right? Wrong!
Surely, if I turned up looking the business, handed a few business cards out and chatted a little I could then sell myself and my business services and products? Anyone could see that I was a professional, hard working woman that had a significant amount to contribute to other businesses and their needs? Wrong!
When I look back now, I see how naive and ridiculous my approach was. I thought I had an idea of what I was doing, but really I had no concept of what networking was. But then again, I was young and without guidance. In fact, I was just hopelessly wasting my time.
However, through trial and error, I have moved on and learnt so much about what it takes to be a good networker. Not just someone that wants to be out there promoting my business and myself, but someone who really cares about giving back to my community. This, for me, has been the key.
So, let me take you on a guided tour of my networking successes and failures so that you can get an idea of what you should be doing to gain traction with your peers and to gain exposure in your industry whilst also helping others in their business, careers and journey.
- Invest your time into network groups that suit you and your business. Start out with free events and move on from there. Be picky. If it doesn’t suit your style, drop it like a hot potato!
- The best networking groups I have been involved in were either connected to my industry or the locality of my business. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Make sure the group is going to add value to what you do, and in turn, a group that you can also provide value to.
- Turn up looking the business! This is the one thing I did do right. First impressions count and people automatically align themselves with those that look like they have gone to some effort and have a professional approach to business. It’s all about trust, and whether shallow or not, we all make value decisions about who we want to align ourselves with. People also naturally gravitate toward the most influential and powerful people in the room. If they don’t know you, it’s best to do something to attract their interest and an attitude of ‘I don’t really care’ is just not going to cut it. Not at the outset anyway. Save your more casual look till after they get to know you.
- Turn up with business cards. I am usually hopeless at this as I often forget to pack them into my bag. As a result, I have turned to the digital business card app ‘Haystack’. This way I am never out of cards and it also adds a personal touch to providing my information. Recipients of my digital business card are able to click directly on my email, social media and web links thus giving them more information about me than a standard business card ever would.
- Attend on a regular basis. Don’t just turn up once and expect miracles. People need to get to know you who you are and what you stand for. Only then will they trust in you and wish to invest further.
- Be patient and get to know people in the group. The most unlikely opportunities may present itself to you when you least expect it. Take the long approach. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen!
- Offer work to your peers in areas you don’t excel, but they do. You will find the favour returned many times over as well as providing a better service to your clients, in areas you are unfamiliar. E.g. I have never been good at PC Server Networks and infrastructure, but one of my industry peers excelled at it. He became my go to guy when I needed help for client server installs and upgrades. As a result, we have formed a strong bond and shared opportunities with one another, over and over again.
- Attend industry conferences and events regularly. Over several years you will come to know a number of people in your industry, just through attending events. I call this, catching up with the ‘usual suspects’.
- Offer your assistance at groups. Ask if you are able to present at the group to gain exposure by demonstrating skills or knowledge that may wow the group. Becoming a guest presenter is a great opportunity, but make sure you prepare well in advance and handle all of the logistics.
- Stand up and offer yourself as a network facilitator. This has been one of the best things I have ever done. Currently, I hold bi-monthly meetings on behalf of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers on a voluntary basis. I have been doing this now for the last eight and a half years. Yes it is a lot of work and lost time in earning capacity but what I have got back in return is absolutely priceless. Below is a list of some of the benefits attained from offering my skills and knowledge on a regular basis:
- Amazing friendships and camaraderie which has allowed the group to become very well connected. From this they have offered one another work, shared opportunities and formed great relationships. I have also formed very close friendships with a number of members and have a number of ‘conference’ buddies to travel and share my time with.
- A support group to share your challenges and successes with
- The sharing of knowledge. A wonderful way to learn from others in business and/or your industry. Despite being the facilitator, I have learnt so much from group members.
- Industry exposure. From networking I have met so many new people and in turn, they have come to know myself, my business, my ethos, vision etc. As a result I have received referrals and sales through word of mouth.
- Industry accolades. I have been rewarded for my efforts with nomination as a Fellow of the ICB and as an ICB Board Member.
- Get to know the group facilitators and/or event organisers. These are the people you can chat with to find out about opportunities within the group/event. They often have their finger on the pulse and know a lot about their members/attendees and what they may be looking for. This includes knowledge of areas of need they may have passed on to the facilitator. Ask for introductions to people who may benefit from what you have to offer.
- Be pushy – take the time to get to know people and check whether you’re a right fit. There is no point in forcing something that will never work out anyway.
- Forget to bring a positive attitude with you. When connecting with unfamiliar people, there’s nothing more awkward than dealing with a negative and/or combative person that’s constantly challenging or taking over a group with negativity. It’s not what everyone signed up for, so keep that stuff for your friends and home. Share your challenges in business, sure, but keep it in line with seeking solutions without resorting to the negative.
- Try and push a sale or yourself. People buy based upon trust and value. If they’re not ready, a pushy attitude is not going to convert them.
- Be loud and overbearing. You know the one… the person in the room that seems to always want all of the attention and tries to take over the room. They are often opinionated, loud and prefer to talk and have their opinion heard over others. This can be incredibly annoying and can detract from the experience everyone was hoping to have. Try to listen, empathise and help solve problems rather than making it all about you.
Hopefully by now, you may have noticed there is a broad theme that runs through becoming a great networker. In summary, it is more about giving than receiving, to groups that align with you and your business.
Get yourself out there and become an active networker, as no one will find you in the safety of your office. Make yourself uncomfortable by expanding your reach, but realise that it will get easier the more you attend and get to know each group and its members. For me personally, this has opened my life up to a world of opportunities. Some perhaps never thought of, or considered prior. For others, I have witnessed new partnerships, joint ventures, job opportunities, friendships and industry gains. The benefits are real, I say go for it! To your networking success…
Yours in productivity, efficiency and automation