Networking is considered to be the best way to get your name out there. But, if your phone isn’t ringing off the hook after numerous networking events, you may have drawn the conclusion that networking does not work.
Here is the lowdown – networking is the building of lasting relationships and what many business owners often do not realise, is that it requires an ongoing and long-term strategy which will form the basis of their business.
It also entails a two-pronged approach – a networking process or strategy followed by a networking event.
Before you attend any networking event, you need to build your networking strategy first.
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1. Separate The Event From The Process
A process is a set of logical steps to get a desired result and with any process you need to be patient as it takes time. The goal of the networking process is to build lasting business relationships and establish yourself as an expert in your field in order to be top of mind in your industry.
Networking is not about keeping score of how many business cards you have collected or how many sales you have made after attending only one event. It takes time to build trust and credibility.
2. Preparation Is Key
Do your homework before attending a networking event in order to get the maximum return on the time you spend at the event.
- Research the networking organisation you want to attend. Are they aligned with your values and do they compliment your business? Most importantly, do they have a proven track record supporting entrepreneurs effectively and are they committed to helping you grow your business.
- Have a clear goal in mind. What do you want to achieve by attending the event and can this network help you reach that goal?
- Have a look at the guest list (if the networking organisation provides this) and do some research on those who will be attending and ask yourself how they fit into your business marketing plan/strategy. Who do you want to connect with on that list and why?
- Ask yourself, are you going to meet prospective clients, find referral sources or are you attending to find new suppliers?
3. Add Value Through Your Presence
One of your goals for attending a networking event should be to serve as a resource for others. To do this, you need to keep the following points in mind:
- Do not arrive late. In fact, it is better to arrive early as most guests have not arrived yet and chances are the guest speaker is there already. This is a great opportunity to connect with the speaker as you may not get a chance later.
- Make a positive first impression by giving a firm handshake and smiling when introducing yourself. Always maintain eye contact and be friendly.
- Ensure that you introduce yourself in such a manner that the person will be able to tell someone else what you do when asked.
- At the end of the day, you want to make quality contacts, so remember, it’s not about how many business cards you can collect and add to your database.
- Be a resource for other people with no strings attached. People will remember you for being helpful. Share your knowledge as much as you can and recommend others who have given you good service.
- Leverage off the people that you do know at an event and ask them to introduce you. If you are attending an event for the first time, seek out the event organisers and ask them to introduce you to someone that can assist you with what you currently need in your business.
4. Other Networking Golden Rules To Remember
- Be yourself and behave with integrity.
- People do not want to be sold to. Build a lasting business relationship instead and it will benefit you too.
- Show up to as many events as you can – you want to be top of mind when people need someone in your industry. The only way you are going to achieve this is by showing up consistently.
- Do not change your brand message all the time. Be consistent. At the same time, do not speak about more than one product or service at a time as you could confuse guests.
- Pick which product and service to “punt” at specific networking events – in other words tailor your evaluator pitch to your audience.
- Don’t hand a business card to everyone that you meet. Give them out strategically
- Remember to do a debriefing after each network event and ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I attend again? If not, why?
- Did I meet my goals?
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If you are starting to feel network fatigued, don’t give up. Remember that consistency is the key to success and even more so, is the importance of following up 24 hours after you have made a connection.
Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event
Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.
It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.
If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.
Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:
Build your own network of people
When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.
In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.
You are your own superhero
For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.
If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.
Always be strategic about your approach
The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.
Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.
Network both online and offline
If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.
Provide more than you take
Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.
The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule For Successful Networking
If you follow the three parts of this rule carefully, you can learn to network successfully.
Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that saying? Probably enough to know that the way you’re perceived really does affect the business you conduct (or don’t conduct) with other people. This is especially true when it comes to networking and meeting someone for the first time, and this is where the 12 x 12 x 12 rule becomes so important.
Basically, this rule involves three questions:
- How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
- How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
- What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?
What we’re talking about is how important it is to create the right perception of yourself and your business.
Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. But, most prospects don’t care how much you’ve got going on or how many balls you have in the air. They just want to know if you’re a potential solution to a problem they have, and their initial perception of you goes a long way in making that determination.
The same is true for potential referral partners.
They want to know if they can trust you with their referrals – people (and sometimes clients) with whom they have a good relationship. Do you have your act together so you won’t jeopardise their good name when they refer business to you? Right or wrong, their initial perception of you is going to play a large part in answering that question.
This is precisely what the 12 x 12 x 12 rule is all about. It looks at you from the perspective of other people (prospects or referral partners) and shows you how to optimise their perception. This doesn’t mean manipulating or deceiving them; experienced people can see through that. Nor is it about checking your personality at the door. What it does mean is fine-tuning your networking practices to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.
Let’s go over the specifics of the 12 x 12 x 12 rule and how you can manage the perception others have of you.
Look the part before going to the event (How do you look from 12 feet away?)
You’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t go casual. Instead, consider wearing a good suit or nice outfit. You need to be well rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.
Make sure your body language sends the right message (How do you come across from 12 inches away?)
When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information – trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness — is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid with your arms crossed.
When meeting someone for the first time, a lot can be said about how much your attitude can impact her first impression. Make sure that when you’re talking to others, you have a positive, upbeat attitude.
Another part of the “12 inches” away rule is making sure you know which pocket your business cards are in and having plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organised!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card. So make sure you have some type of system for keeping your cards separate from the cards you receive at the event.
One more thing: Remember to smile when meeting someone for the first time. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.
Make sure you’re ready to speak (What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?)
When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response, or unique selling proposition (USP), that’s succinct but memorable. A good USP is the offline equivalent of a good post on social media… something that promotes curiosity and engagement. The attention span of the average adult is 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work. Whatever words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding over-rehearsed or contrived.
Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the 12 x 12 x 12 rule in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why I Never Meet Someone For Coffee
The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.
First off, I need to make clear that I am not against meeting people for coffee or even drinking coffee. My issue is that I’ve learned that the offer to go get coffee usually means that somebody wants something from me. Whether it is time, money or to help them make a connection, an offer to grab a drink almost always has some ulterior motive behind it.
You might think that I flat out don’t want to help others, but the real issue is the other opportunities that I have in front of me. I have a lot on my plate, so dedicating the time to a “quick” coffee meeting does not make much sense.
Say no to getting coffee
Hours spent in the office doing business are not the time to sit back, relax or socialise. I try to be as efficient, effective and statistically successful as possible during work hours (and beyond). The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.
I rarely take anyone up on the offer to “do lunch” during work hours. Just consider the amount of time that it takes to get to and from a coffee or lunch meeting, and how much business could be done in that same time.
Then, think about the inefficiencies of utilising that time for things such as small talk, even before you get to the critical business issue.
Have an objective in mind
I have the objective to try and keep every phone call to a maximum of five minutes. When it comes to in-person meetings, I prefer them to take place at my office or overlapping other meetings I have outside the office, which I call “holding court.”
Even then, I try to keep those meetings to 20 minutes long. This allows me to fit in as many meetings or calls as possible. So many people make the excuse that they are “doing business” and then leave the office to do unimportant things, or overlap their meetings around errands.
Make no mistake, I’m not advising against meeting people in person. I’m saying take control of the business opportunity and have them come to you, or meet them somewhere convenient when you are outside of the office.
No coffee, just grind
The majority of lunch and coffee meetings that take place are nothing but an inefficient use of time. I would suggest not only rejecting such meetings during work hours, but to also stop asking for coffee meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.
How do you determine whether or not a meeting is necessary? Take a look at the reasons and impacts the meeting can have. If these outweigh the potential drawbacks of an in-person meeting, then it is acceptable to ask. Make sure that you focus on making efficiency a key principle when chasing your objectives.
Stay focused in on critical business issues and you will find that focus will provide you with everything you desire in business and life.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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