We’ve all heard the expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. In today’s business world, there is more competition than ever. With economic times not as optimistic as they once were, many business are actively prospecting in the hope of landing those all important accounts.
Those who are one step ahead of the pack are those who already have or are working on established relationships with their prospective clients. Networking is becoming a fundamental skill to promote your business, its expertise and ultimately its growth.
Networking is quite often at the end of the priorities list when businesses and individuals plan their marketing strategy. Many businesses feel they need to stick to the traditional cold call, proposal pitch or only acting when the calls come through to them.
Individuals feel the need to market themselves and grow their careers. They need the best CV, impressive references and the ability to write a strong job application.
Although all these factors are important, getting out there and building connections by marketing yourself, face to face may just be the fresh approach that prospective clients and employers are looking for.
Networking is different to pitching to someone in a meeting. Networking allows for the personal side of you to play a more active role. Discussing hobbies and interests are aspects that allow you to stand out as an individual, allowing others to see you for a person rather than in just business terms.
When people get to know you, they are more likely to listen to you and make more of an effort to engage in discussion.
So, the question remains. How exactly do we begin networking?
I have attended my fair share of networking events and, more often than not, I find that I do not get any quality time to network and begin the process of building viable business relationships for the future. I find the time allocated to speak with people and start to get to know them is often too short, coupled with too many other distractions.
Besides networking events, there are other ways to really connect, understand and collaborate with people who are interested in leveraging collective networks, especially in this current market.
A simple networking opportunity is to accept the invite to go out with your colleagues out of work hours. It’s not just your colleagues that you’ll be talking to, but friends of colleagues who you may also strike up conversations with.
Another networking opportunity is to think of your friends. This doesn’t mean you start badgering friends for work or forcing your business expertise down their throats at lunch on the weekend. It is important to think about what each person does and whether there is an opportunity to offer your advice to fulfill a need or want.
Does a friend own a business and need help in the area of your expertise? Does someone in your family know about any potential job openings that you might just be suited for? Your friends, family and general acquaintances can be your greatest networking asset.
However, just like any marketing plan, yourself marketing process must be a well thought out structure.
Here are some points to consider when preparing to network:
- Know your best points – Know your strengths and what you should highlight about yourself. Is it your writing skills, or perhaps your management skills? Pick out 3 core points and elaborate on these, and remember to include examples.
- Know how personal you are willing to be – When networking, it is natural for people to become more relaxed and let their guard down. However, it is essential you prepare where you will draw the line in terms of conversation. If someone asks you if you are happy in your current job and the answer is negative, focus always on the positive during your conversations.
- Know how to effectively wrap up – At the end of your networking conversation, it’s important to end on a positive note, and one that will leave your conversation open to the possibility of a follow up conversation. If the act of leaving your business card feels too formal for a particular networking scenario, think of some other closing lines. Perhaps offer your website address or mention where your office is or a good local coffee shop and offer a coffee catch-up.
The central idea to networking is to act where there might be an opportunity and know how to act when that opportunity presents itself. Networking does take practice, confidence and a belief in what you are trying to sell, whether it is yourself or your business.
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Visit www.barrett.com.au