For some people, it is as easy as breathing. They can walk into a room, start a conversation with a complete stranger and by the end of it, they have been invited to dinner, which lands a new business contract. Then the first person he met is introducing him to all his friends.
For other people, just walking in the room feels like diving from a cliff into the ocean teaming with sharks. They would rather hide in the back of the room then strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Networking is a necessary skill to build business contacts and gain clients. Whether you have started a new business, are looking to grow your business or need to collaborate with other businesses, networking is needed to let people know who you are and what you do.
And while it is critical to your business’ success, it can seem like another task to an already long “to do list.” Or if you are shy, it can be scary to venture into a room of strangers and start a conversation. Irish poet William Butler Yeats once said, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” Great advice to remember.
For some people networking is uncomfortable because it seems insincere. As though you are only connecting with the person so you can gain a client or do a business deal.
The first step in networking is taking the right approach – it’s not about what the other person can do for you but rather how you can assist the other person. Being a great listener is key in networking. By listening you can learn how you can connect your business with another person’s business and what that person may need.
Here are 8 tips to remember when networking:
1. Do what comes naturally.
If you like to run, play golf, read books or swing dance, start by joining a group. It may be easier for you to have a conversation while running with someone than it would be at a conference or chamber meeting. Plus it gives you the opportunity to overcome your hesitation to talk to strangers in a more relaxed way.
Whether you are helping arrange floors, planning the event or arranging tables and chairs, volunteering is a great way to connect with people. It provides an opportunity for you to see how others work in stressful and busy situations as well as for you to showcase your work skills and work ethic. Pick a nonprofit organization you are passionate about and lend your time.
3. Realize there is yet another difference between men and women.
Geri Stengel is a contributor for Forbes and wrote an article called “6 ways Women can power up their business with networking.” She wrote how research shows “that entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks grow their businesses bigger.” While women are good at communicating and working together, they don’t excel at building power networks. Think of it this way, if there are only five people on your team and your opponent has a team of 100, who is going to have more connections? Networking is a way to create a team of people to help you achieve your goals. For men, networking seems easy. They arrange business deals on the golf course, at football games or over beers at the local pub. For women, this kind of networking seems insincere or phony. Women are just as capable of making a deal on the golf course – plus it will give you a chance to stand-out amongst your competition.
4, Dad was right.
My dad used to say to us a thousand times “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This is so true. You may be the most talented person in your field but if you don’t know the right people, than you won’t succeed. It’s also important to share with people what you are doing and what you want to accomplish. Too often we have this idea that if we are good at what we do, people will take notice and the work will follow. While in some cases this is true, it’s also true there are people who are great at selling themselves and their work, even though they not be the best at what they do, they get the work.
5, Most importantly, be yourself.
We can all tell when someone is being insincere or phony. Or just out for themselves. A key to networking is listening. If you are talking to a potential client, listen to see what his or her needs may be and then think about how your business can meet that need. A key to getting a client is showing how you can be an asset.
6. Networking helps you gain clients in unusual places.
It could be at a wedding or a garage sale. A casual conversation could turn into a business deal. Just be sincere and honest.
7. Don’t forget to follow-up.
If you meet someone who is interested in your business, make sure to follow-up. Send a note or make a phone call to arrange an appointment. Invite them to your business to see your work or to lunch to discuss what you do.
8. It’s better to try and fail, then fail to try
Unfortunately, with networking you will strike out. There will be people who brush you off and don’t want to talk to you or people who will say they are interested but never return a phone call. And when that happens, it can make you not want to try networking again. Keep trying. For every strike out, you will meet the one person who believes in your business and wants to help and she will introduce you to her friends who will introduce you to their friends…
You get the picture. Now, brush off the shyness and get out there.