I recently heard a talk by Mark Graber of BNI fame. As an expert networker, he had some stand-out tips that apply to any business owner or professional working on building their relationships to help grow more business.
One of Mark’s sayings is, ‘There’s no networking gene.’ Start-ups across a variety of industries are known for their networking efforts to get their businesses off the ground, but more established professionals, such as accountants, financial planners, lawyers and management consultants, also need to consider networking as part of their business-building arsenal. But how do we navigate networking when we may be inexperienced, time-poor, or just not a ‘natural’ at walking into a roomful of strangers? Networking skills are indeed learned, not inherited, whether or not you are a social butterfly. There are different skills to master for face-to-face networking and for online networking.
After several years’ experience in a range of networking situations to grow my business and establish myself in the brand consulting, image reputation and profile photography industries, I have found the following networking skills essential to master:
- Establishing a clear purpose and desired outcome for attending a business event
- Spending time really listening to and speaking with just a handful of people
- Not being concerned with giving out business cards but instead, knowing how to make great first impressions and connections with people
- Understanding how to dress appropriately for my professional image and in different business contexts
- Creating follow-up procedures and sticking to them after attending business meetings and events
- Learning how to leverage event networking by being one of the speakers or hosts
- Learning what makes promotional material at events worthwhile or a total waste of time and money
- Backing up my face-to-face first impressions with a solid personal brand online
- Understanding online etiquette for connecting with people
- Understanding online tools and advanced techniques for building a meaningful business network
Another point Mark Graber made at his recent talk was that people will kill themselves to preserve their reputation, even before their health. This has obvious implications for networking! Consider how the following might build or damage your reputation:
- Having your reputation precede you: On meeting you, someone says, ‘Oh I’ve heard about your work, Such-and-Such was raving about you!’ or ‘Oh I see you everywhere on LinkedIn’
- Meeting with someone new, who doesn’t recognize you because the photo they saw on your profile is from 20 years ago
- Turning up to a business event to find you are underdressed
- Looking over the shoulder of the person you are speaking with, to see who else you might speak to
- Waiting to be asked, then handing out an impressive, eye-catching business card that clearly states what you do and stands out in the pack
- Arriving at a meeting with pre-prepared, in-depth research into the prospect’s business, then really listening to their needs
Maybe this sounds obvious to you – it’s certainly not rocket science. But how many times have we formed a first impression of someone that is less than favourable? And doesn’t it stick?
If you or your team are participating in face-to-face or online networking, remember there is no networking gene. It pays to put some education strategies in place to ensure you are all on-brand and keeping an excellent professional reputation in tact.