For this month’s blog post on business networking, I decided to ask some of my fellow networkers what problems they have had with networking, or what issues they thought would be helpful to discuss. Here are the issues and my responses to them:
Issue: “I think that you should write about the difference between having connections and developing relationships. If you only network to increase your connections, it won’t work.”
Response: Absolutely true. People do business with those who they know, like, and trust. That doesn’t get built in a few meetings. You need to spend time with them for it to even have a chance. This leads to the conclusion that you’re better off spending more time with fewer people, but it needs to be the right people. Since one of the later inputs discusses that issue, I’ll cover it more there.
Issue: “The main problem I run into with networking events is that there are so many of them, and as a small business owner I have limited time. How do you sort through them to select the ones that would be most productive for your business and the way you do marketing? How do you tell which organizations are good matches for you (BNI vs. smaller, less-pressured groups, industry-specific, male/female, etc.)? Where will you meet people who are either potential clients or good referral sources? Also, not sure if you have done this already, but a lot of people don’t know how to come right out and ask for business and/or referrals. Some tips could help. ”
Response: By asking this question, this person shows they are experienced at networking and have found that time management is a serious issue with it. My own approach is to limit my networking to a few groups. One or two are general networking groups that give me resources to offer solutions to whatever problems my referral partners may have. The other one or two are specifically groups made up of my ideal referral sources or customers. In my case, that’s interior designers and architects. I make spending time on those relationships my priority. I use both groups to provide solutions to whatever problems my referral partners may have regardless of whether there’s anything in it for me or not, and regardless of whether it relates to my business or not. The whole point of networking is to be able to help people. It is it’s own reward. Everything else is gravey. Just trust that it won’t hurt your business to be as helpful as you can to other people. As for selecting which groups to participate in, that requires you to be really clear and narrow in defining what you do & who you’re looking to meet. I wrote a whole blog on that topic here previously.
As for the second part about asking for referrals, the best approach that I’ve found is when you’ve provided a good service to a customer, you can tell them that if they know anyone else who needs that service, you’d appreciate the referral. Also, after I’ve done something for someone else (work related or not), if they’re a good referral partner who understands the networking process, they’re likely to ask what they can do to help me & that’s a good time to clearly explain what I’m looking for. I have to admit, I don’t ask if they don’t bring it up.
Issue: David, I think following up is an important topic. Inviting people you meet at networking events to connect on LinkedIn (or facebook). Also, what’s appropriate and not so appropriate (spam email messages and adding people to mailing lists without permission). Scheduling 121s after a networking event (choosing the right people to meet with, and what to say at a 121). There’s listening and asking a lot of questions (listen more, talk less). Being mindful of how you can solve people’s problems not only with your product, but by introducing them to people you know.
Response: This was contributed by one of the best networkers I know. All good advice. This reinforces what I touched on before. You can only do so much follow up, so narrowing your networking enables you to be better at follow up. As for what to say during a 121, I play the game of seeing how much of the time I can make the conversation about them & their problems. You can’t find out their problems by talking, you have to listen. Keep most of the conversation on them. You have two ears & one mouth for a reason.
David Coblitz – The St. Louis Artographer
I network through BNI. They only allow one from each trade to join a chapter so as long as you can prove to the other members that you are the right person for the job, you will get lots of referrals. It does have to be worked at, If you don’t get referrals for others, they won’t provide you with any. They also need to trust you, they won’t trust you with their best client unless you can prove that you are worthy!
I’m quite lucky, I am the person our chapter come to for photography, they are also more than happy to let me loose with their clients. We are a new group that went live about 9 weeks ago. We met previously to this whilst we were in the process of setting up the chapter. Already, I’ve virtually paid off my subscription with new jobs coming in every week.
Networking is like anything else, it will work for those that put the work in and who can prove their worth. It won’t work for those who don’t or won’t put the work in.
I agree on the BNI part. Even if you didn’t get in as the “one photographer” in your chapter, the act of having the mindset of “How can I help You?” rather than “what can you do for my business” opens up a whole avenue of relationship-building and active referral system.
Active networking is certainly something we all need to work on, but the returns are priceless and frankly, the CPL is a lot lower than other paid methods.
David, Absolutely! But you have to be patient. I have had it take literally 1 year before I see a return on a networking connection investment. Since it’s frequently such a long process, I like not to think about the return, but concentrate on how I can help people. Remember that when you help someone by connecting them to someone else in your network, you’ve actually helped two people. There are never any guarantees that will lead to business for you, but it doesn’t hurt you & does help them, so it’s always a good idea. I look at it as rubbing some of the trust someone has in you onto someone else who you can benefit that way. Hence you do have to be careful to refer people in whom you have confidence because it can also come back to you negatively if it doesn’t work out well.