Business networking is one of the most cost-effective and straightforward tools for entrepreneurs to develop their business, gain new clients and build credibility in their chosen field. And yet, so many small business owners shy away from this, believing it to be too overwhelming a task. Yet, if done right, business networking can open doors to opportunities you weren’t aware existed.
A common misconception is that networking involves aggressive selling, relentless self-promotion and telling your story to as many people as possible. In reality, it’s the very opposite. Rather than walking into a networking event with the mindset of ‘what’s in it for me?’, spin it around and think instead ‘how can I help this person?’ The most effective networkers in any industry are aware that creating mutually beneficial relationships over an extended period of time is what will ultimately help them grow their clientele.
When you’re introduced to someone, instead of wondering how you can sell your product or service to them, look for creative ways in which you can help ‘them’. Perhaps you could offer some advice based on your own experiences. Or you could connect them with someone you know who might be able to take their business further. Maybe you know a friend who has been looking for the exact services this person offers. Connect. Offer. Share. Let the focus be on the person you’re interacting with rather than yourself. The law of reciprocity means that at some point in the future, they may well return the favour. However, it is vital to share your knowledge or connections generously without expecting anything in return.
The ‘elevator pitch’ is another essential tool. This is basically your ‘less than a minute’ outline of what your business is all about. Before attending any networking event, make sure you have perfected your elevator pitch so that you sound confident and articulate when someone asks you the inevitable ‘what do you do?’ Avoid using too many technical terms in your elevator pitch. The best way to retain the other person’s interest is to use language that’ll resonate with him or her. As they say, emotion is often far stronger than logic. If your words appeal to their emotions, they’ll be keen to know more about you.
Lastly, I cannot stress enough the need to follow up and keep in touch. After a networking event, send off an email in 24-48 hours saying something simple like ‘it was great meeting you the other day.’ If you felt the two of you got along fairly well, it’s okay to suggest a coffee catch up. Lunch is not a great idea just yet as it might be perceived as too familiar too soon.
Business networking, if done right, is a fun and easy way to grow your business, expand your network and become known as an expert in your chosen niche. Follow these tips and your networking-anxiety will soon be a thing of the past.