Last week I ran a seminar on effective networking for the Federation of Small Businesses and yesterday I ran an in-house session for a client on the same topic. It was 17 years ago when I ran my first session on this topic and what has surprised me most was how much people still loathe networking.
Is there an innate fear of approaching strangers, I wonder…? Maybe we fear rejection more than we like to admit? Or are we worried about being tongue-tied when giving our elevator pitch?
Whatever the reason, it is apparent that, while networking is an essential part of doing business and getting on at work, it is often a disliked part. Approach it with an attitude of not wanting to be there and it won’t be surprising that people don’t come to talk to you… your apathy or resentment will show on your face however hard you try to hide it.
Discussing the topic of networking with a friend recently she told me she had organised a business evening event and was the only women in attendance. Not unusual for her in the sector she works in, but what saddened her was that the three other women on the attendance list all cried off at the last minute. Do women loathe networking more than men? Was it to do with it being a male-dominated field? Or were there genuine reasons for cancellation? We won’t know the answer, but I do know that sometimes we all need to build up our internal courage to put ourselves “out there” in the networking arena.
So what are the tips to get the most out of your networking and to feel comfortable while doing so? Well, apart from arranging for me to run an in-house workshop to impart my 20+ years of experience, here are a few of the common errors, and a few common-sense tips.
Common error #1
Thinking you will achieve a sale
Networking is about buying relationships, not about sales. While ultimately everyone there is probably looking for business connections to be made with a view of creating a sale, going into an event with the mindset of “who can I sell to?”or even “who will buy from me today?” Is self-destructive. If you have this mindset it will be apparent to those you are talking to that your focus is on your sales pipeline, and not on their business.
Networking is about making connections, which may lead to sales. But it is not about sales.
Common error #2
Not being able to explain what you do
The elevator pitch, so called because it is the explanation you should be able to give about your business in the time it takes an elevator (lift) to reach the top floor, is commonly misused.
A long explanation will switch people off. As will a clever or convoluted explanation. Far better to understand what you do in your head and say something more accessible and appropriate aloud, than try to be clever. To craft what to say, think about the person asking you. How much do they know about your industry? Chances are if you are at a specific industry event it could be a lot, but if you are at a general networking event, maybe not much. Then think about the benefits of what you do; what does those who buy your products or services gain? What problem does your product/service solve? Then go ahead and craft your answer. But only use a short, few seconds of your reply – give people the chance to have a conversation! Too many people see the question as an opportunity to open the floodgates and spew out all of the information straight away.
Common Error #3
Having said above that networking isn’t directly about sales, there is still room for asking for a contact, sussing out interest, and arranging a follow-up conversation. Too many opportunities are lost, because we fail to recognise that someone may be able to help us. Not directly, but through their own network. Asking a question which starts “do you know anyone who…” could be the leverage you need to take your business to the next level.
Approach those you wish to speak to, ask if you may follow up for a further discussion, and make the most of your networking opportunities.
Know What you do, and Why you do it
As Simon Sinek says in his TED talk, most people know what they do and how they do it, but some are disconnected form the WHY. If you understand your why, you may have a stronger chance of succeeding in business. But also, think about why you are networking. Just going to have a chance to socialise can be a good enough reason if you work alone all day and need to talk to people once in a while!
Watch your Body Language
Having a firm (but not too firm) handshake, making eye contact and standing up straight while networking helps to create a positive impression. Don’t underestimate the judgements we humans are likely to make of each other and give some thought to how you present yourself in public, what impression do you want to give to others and whether it is congruent with you and your business.
Finally, watch your internal chatter. As an expert on the imposter phenomenon, commonly referred to as imposter syndrome, I know that feeling like a fraud can get in the way of promoting yourself successfully. Having researched into the phenomenon with successful entrepreneurs, be reassured that if you experience extreme self-doubt, and think that at some point you may be “found out”, know you are not alone. It is a common experience, but not commonly spoken about. I’ll blog more about how to overcome the imposter feelings another time. But for now, just watch your internal chatter – you are worth talking to, and your business is worth talking about!
Following Kate’s interactive seminar on effective networking I can now structure how I answer “what do you do?” in a way that allows a good conversation to flow. I also feel more in control of my confidence and am comfortable that I have something to say which will make my networking more productive in the future. Stephen Way, The Work Bees
Hear What Alan Todd, Chair of the Cambridge branch of the Federation of Small Businesses has to say on Kate’s Effective Networking seminar
Known as an inspirational and motivational speaker, Kate Atkin gives talks, workshops and seminars across the UK and overseas on networking, confidence and the imposter syndrome. For more details of these or to discuss individual coaching give Kate Atkin a call on 07779 646976 or drop her an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.kateatkin.com