business networking tips and techniques for networking events and networking websites

business networking tips and techniques for networking events and networking websites

Business networking is an effective low-cost marketing method for developing sales opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions – either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, and increasingly social and business networking websites.

The shortened term ‘networking’ can be confused with computer networking/networks, which is different terminology, relating to connection and accessibility of multiple computer systems.

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A business network of contacts is both a route to market for you, and a marketing method. Business networking offers a way to reach decision-makers which might otherwise be very difficult to engage with using conventional advertising methods.

In addition, business networking brings with it the added advantage of recommendation and personal introduction, which are always very helpful for developing business opportunities.

Business networking is a way for you to make the maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know..” work for you.

The principles and techniques of business networking are mostly common sense. Many of the behavioural principles apply also to business and relationships generally, and specifically to selling, managing, coaching, facilitating, etc.

(Please note that some spellings in UK-English and US-English may vary, for example words like organisation/organization, behaviour/behavior. When using these materials please change the spellings to suit your local situation.)

business networking – quick tips summary

Here are ten of the most important principles for effective business networking. More details are linked from each tip to bigger explanations below.

Consider that all sorts of professional people outside of the business community can also be very helpful networking contacts – for example, scientists, lecturers, educators, councillors, etc. When developing your networking plans, think beyond the people you’d typically see at other business networking events. Some of the most important connections are not business people, and consequently you need to be creative in reaching them. The examples of networking situations/methods below provides help with this later.

These tips apply broadly to any sort of business networking – face-to-face, organized events, business social networking websites, etc:

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ten essential principles

1. Elevator speech. Describe yourself concisely and impressively.
2. Be different. Differentiate yourself. Aim high. Be best at   something.
3. Help others. Help others and you will be helped.
4. Personal integrity. Integrity, trust and reputation are vital for   networking.
5. Relevant targeting. Groups and contacts relevant to your aims and   capabilities.
6. Plans and aims. Plan your networking – and know what you want.
7. Follow up. Following up meetings and referrals makes   things happen.
8. Be positive. Be a positive influence on everyone and   everything.
9. Sustained focused effort. Be focused – and ever-ready.
10. Life balance. Being balanced and grounded builds assurance.

1. describe yourself – elevator speech

Use these principles also in text-based descriptions for the web and printed materials, etc.

This is commonly called an ‘elevator speech’ or ‘elevator pitch’ – as if you were to meet a potentially important contact for the first time in an elevator at a conference and he/she asks you: “What do you do?” You have no more than 20 seconds – perhaps just 10-15 seconds – between floors to explain, and to make such an impressive impact that the person asks for your contact details.

If you talk (or write) too much, the listener (or reader) will become bored, or think you are rude or too self-centred.

Be concise. You will demonstrate consideration and expertise by conveying your most relevant points in as short a time as possible.

Here are the main points for creating your elevator speech:

1. your name “My name is…” Look the   other person in the eye. Smile. Shoulders back. Speak with confidence.   Sincerity and passion are crucial in making a strong early impression.
2. your business name “I work for…” or   “My business is …” Loud clear proud again. Do not ask “Have   you heard of us..?” or wait for recognition.
3. based and covering where “I am based…” and   “I cover…” Adapt the town, city, geography for the situation.   There is little value in mentioning a tiny village if you are at a global   gathering, or your global coverage if you are at a local town gathering. Make   this relevant to the situation.
4. your personal specialism and/or   offering, and your aims Be different and special and   better in some way from your competitors. Be meaningful for the event or   situation or group, and as far as you can guess, be meaningful for the   contact. Express what you offer in terms of positive outcomes for those you   help or supply, rather than focusing on technical details from your own   viewpoint. Load your statements here with special benefits or qualities. Be   positive, proud and ambitious in your thinking and expression of what you do.   Include in this statement what your aims are, to show you have   ambition and that you know what you are seeking from network contacts.

Depending on the situation, aim to complete your explanation in less than 20 seconds.

Less is more: lots of powerful points in very few words make a much bigger impact than a lengthy statement.

It is a sign of a good mind if you can convey a lot of relevant impressive information in a very short time.

Conversely, a long rambling statement shows a lack of preparation, professionalism and experience.

N.B. In some situations your speech may flow smoother by inverting points 3 and 4, or combining them. If your organizational structure is complex do not attempt to explain it. The other person is not interested in this level of detail now – they just need to know where you operate, and an indication of scale.

While you are speaking look the other person in the eyes, and be aware of his/her body language to gauge for interest and reaction to you personally, and to help your assessment of the other person’s character and mood.

After your ‘elevator speech’ end in a firm, positive, constructive way.

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Ending with a question enables more to happen than letting the discussion tail off nowhere or into polite small-talk.

Depending on the situation and visible reaction (again see body language for clues of interest) you can end in various ways, for example:

“What’s your interest here/at this event?”

“What are you most wanting to get out of this event/your visit here?”, or obviously if you’ve not already asked:

“What do you do?”

If you already know the other person’s interests and motives, for example ask:

“How would you like to improve/change/grow… (various options, for example – your own network, your own business activities, this sort of event, etc)?”

After giving your elevator speech avoid the temptation to force your business card onto the other person (unless this is the tone and expectation of the event), and certainly do not launch a full-blooded sales pitch.

Instead try to develop the discussion around what the other person wants to do, achieve, change, grow, etc.

And be on your guard for interruptions and sudden opportunities:

Many highly competent business people have a habit of interrupting and cutting short discussions when they see an opportunity.

This means you may not always finish your elevator speech, in which case allow the discussion to progress, rather than try to complete what you planned to say.

Be prepared at any time to respond effectively to an interruption like, “Okay, I get the picture – now what exactly do you need?..”

2. be different and ambitious

The sales training and marketing sections contain lots of guidance about developing or refining your offering so that it is strongly differentiated from what is already available in the market-place, whatever your market-place is.

If there is no special difference between you and other providers, then people have no reason whatsoever to choose to work with you.

Look again at how you describe your business offering (or yourself as a person) – what’s different or special about it (or you) compared with all the others?

If there is no difference, you must find a way to create one.

Sometimes this is merely a matter of redefining or placing different emphasis on what you already are and already do.

This difference must be something that plenty of people will find appealing; ideally irresistible. If you are struggling to find a difference or market advantage, look at your competitors and talk to your customers, and discover what’s missing and what can be dramatically improved out there. There is always at least one thing, usually more – perhaps you can bundle two or three powerful market advantages together.

This difference needs to shine out in your elevator speech, and be echoed in your subsequent discussions whenever initial interest develops towards supplying something, or putting a collaborative project together.

Aim high and big when thinking about and expressing yourself and your aims. Be realistic of course, but aim to be the best and to lead in some way, in whatever specialisms and market-place you operate.

Your aims should also suggest what you are seeking from business networking – otherwise, there’s no reason for you to be networking.

Business networking is not simply finding customers in one-to-one meetings and connections; it’s building a strong network, helpful for your aims. Accordingly project yourself as a great networker, as well as being a great supplier or specialist.

Business networkers want to work with other networkers who aim high, who have great ambitions; people who see what can be, not merely what is; and who strive for change and improvement.

These attitudes make things happen.

When you meet like-minded networkers with these attitudes, your network will grow because they’ll see you can make things happen too.

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3. help others – give before you receive

Always prioritise helping and giving to others ahead of taking and receiving for yourself.

You must give in order to receive. Be helpful to others and you will be helped in return.

Networks of people are highly complex – often it is not possible to see exactly how and why they are working for you, so you must trust that goodness is rewarded, even if the process is hidden and the effect takes a while.

Use the principle of ‘what goes around comes around’.

You could think of this as Karma in business.

A possible explanation of how Karma (or whatever you call it) produces positive outcomes is found in the rule of ’cause and effect’, or the scientific law (loosely speaking) that ‘every action has an equal reaction’.

Good deeds and helpfulness tend to produce positive effects. They are usually remembered and often repaid. The giver builds reputation and trust. Referrals tend to result.

Imagine yourself having lots of personal connections like this. You become known as a helpful person. Word about you spreads, and your reputation grows.

People who give are seen to have strength to give. Followers gravitate to strong giving people.

Helping others extends far beyond your personal specialism or line of work. Networking is about working within a system (of people) enabling relevant high quality introductions and cooperations, which get great results for the participants. These enabling capabilities transcend personal specialisms.

Cybernetics provides one interesting and useful way to understand how best to approach this. In adapting cybernetics for business networking, the technique is two-pronged:

  • interpret (especially what people need and what will help them)
  • respond (in a way which those involved will find helpful)

At a simpler level, always try to ask helpful questions. These typically begin with ‘what’ and ‘how’, and address an area of interest to the other person, not you.

Open questions (who, what, how, when, etc – also “Tell me about…”) give the other person opportunity to speak and express their views and feelings:

Ask people:

“How can I help you?”

“What can I do for you?”

Closed questions (requiring a yes or no answer, or another single response, for example “Is this your first time here?”) do not offer the other person much opportunity to talk, although at certain times a good relevant closed question can be vital for clarifying things:

“Do you mean X or Y?”

“Do you want to do X or would you prefer that I do it?”

The questioning section of the sales training guide contains many useful pointers about effective questioning techniques, from the view of helping others.

Sharon Drew Morgen’s Facilitative Methodology, while primarily developed for selling, is strongly based on working with systems (of people especially) and includes many excellent ideas and techniques which can be used in business networking and helping others.

The communications concepts of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and TA (Transactional Analysis) also contain useful techniques for helping others, and for understanding the underpinning psychology.

Be creative and constructive in how you regard others and how you might help them. Being defensive and making assumptions tends to limit options and growth.

For example try to see your competitors as potential allies. There is a fine dividing line between the two behaviours, and positioning too many people/companies in the competitor camp can make life unnecessarily difficult. When you talk to your competitors you will often surprise yourselves at the opportunities to work together, in areas (service, territory, sector, application, etc) where you do not compete, and even possibly in areas where you do compete. This is particularly so for small businesses who can form strategic alliances with like-minded competitors to take a joint-offering to a market and compete for bigger contracts.

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4. keep your integrity – build trust and reputation

Always keep your integrity.

Sometimes a situation arises which tempts us to do the wrong thing, causing harm or upset that could have been avoided.

Making such a mistake can damage personal integrity.

We are all human; mistakes happen. If you do make a mistake or wrong decision – whether it significantly undermines your integrity or not – always admit it and apologise.

Failing to apologise for wrong-doing often damages a person’s integrity and reputation far more than the original misjudgment itself.

We only need to think of how we view people in high and public authority, notably politicians, when they fail to take responsibility and admit their mistakes. Some integrity is lost. Do it a few times and all integrity is lost.

People of low integrity sooner or later find that the only friends they have left are other people of low integrity.

Significantly, integrity is vital for trust to develop. Trust is simply not possible without integrity.

Building trust is essential for growing a strong business network.

Lack of trust prevents successful business networking.

Certain connections are absolutely impossible to make until a very high level of trust is established.

Empathy and effective listening greatly assist the process of building trust.

These qualities require you to be genuinely interested in others; to listen properly, and to reflect back meaningfully and helpfully.

Following up (covered below) is also a vital feature of building trust and reputation.

You will probably know a few very solid people who always keep their commitments, and who never make a commitment which they cannot keep. Aim to be like this.

Reliability and dependability are highly valued qualities in relationships, especially relationships involving referrals and recommendations, because someone’s reputation is at stake.

The words ‘reliable’ and ‘dependable’ do not mean that you are always available to everyone. These words mean simply that when you say you will do something you will do it.

Part 1

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