“Every big opportunity starts with a little conversation” – but what the hell does that mean

Every big opportunity starts with a little conversation - Stefan Thomas

If you’ve seen me speak, anywhere, you’ve heard me say “every big opportunity starts with a little conversation”. I like soundbites, they’re useful, if you get them right they can convey a big concept in only a few words.

But because I use it so often, I wanted to explain a little further what it means, and how we, and by we I mean people who want to achieve more from their networking, can implement it.

I was convinced early on in my networking career, and perhaps you were too, that you had to achieve something at the networking event itself and yet, years into my networking career, I started setting the bar very low. Instead of having any formulaic way of speaking to and engaging with people, just because it was “networking”, I started to just be more human.

You see, here’s the first bit, all we really need to do is to start little conversations. Instead of thinking you’ve got to be more networky, if that is even a word, and ask networky questions and have networky conversations, why not just talk about the stuff which humans talk about?

I’ve found, not only for me, but with the people I work with too, that just having conversations takes a load of the pressure off.

So just use the networking event to start conversations. Talk to people as you would in real life. You don’t have to qualify people, because they didn’t turn up at the event to be your prospects, they turned up to talk about their own stuff.

Ask them about their business, be interested in them, and genuinely interested. Don’t just look for ways in to talk about what you do. Just allow that to happen when it happens. So often when people ask me the networky questions, it is obvious that they are just looking for a way to introduce their stuff to me. A question that is simply a set up for someone else to be able to sell to us isn’t genuine interest is it?

Don’t worry, I do get it that when I’ve set up an appointment with someone specifically to talk to them about the possibility of them buying something from me, that it is right then to ask those questions which establish whether they really need what I’m selling and, to an extent, to encourage them to do just that.

But, I reiterate, people don’t go to networking events to buy from you. And you should go to networking events to start conversations and form relationships which will lead to sales, not try to sell to people there and then.

So, use the networking event just to start those little conversations over breakfast, or over Zoom. Be genuinely interested, swap business cards or contact details in the chat box, and make a commitment to follow up afterwards.

Then use your 40 or 60 seconds to introduce people to what you do. Remember, and I’ve written loads more about this and written hundreds of successful introductions for people over the years, that the point is to give people just enough that they want to find out more. Don’t cram too much into your 40 seconds, remember that all you want at this stage is for the right people to want a further conversation with you. You’re aiming to get the interview, not go straight for the job,

Once you’ve started all of these little conversations and the networking event has ended is where the real effort comes in and the magic will happen.

It is our job to now take responsibility for the conversations we started at the networking event, and keep those conversations going.

Instead of trying to be super memorable at the event, and then relying on people to remember us, why not help them to remember us after the event, by putting in the effort to actually keep in touch, in a meaningful way.

At the very least, and I’m astonished at how few people do this, connect with the people you’ve spoken to on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and wherever you can find them. Remember people will choose themselves where they want to hang out, so if your preference is LinkedIn, but they prefer Facebook, you have a choice whether you go to them, or expect them to come to you. Everyone has a different preference here and that’s cool. I choose to hang out in several places, which makes it easy for me to connect and continue to engage.

Then continue to be genuinely interested in them. 2020 gives us actual practical ways of showing our interest – by liking, commenting and sharing other people’s stuff. And yes, that takes a bit of effort. It isn’t as easy as just scheduling some posts on social and hoping other people will read / watch them.

Some of those people you are showing interest in, will come back and be interested in you. So what have you got to show them? The next piece of worthwhile effort is to post useful, helpful content in the form of blogs, articles, podcasts short form social media posts – either a combination of all of the above or double down on whichever media you’re most comfortable with.

People will check you out, whatever you do, they’ll want to know if you really do know what you’re talking about, so give them something to look at. There are so many benefits to putting out content, and the real opportunity, as with many things, is that most people won’t bother.

And finally, don’t hide the till. Make sure that in amongst all of this, you make it completely bloody obvious what you sell and how someone can buy it. Make sure your message is completely clear, that the value in your offering is utterly apparent and that you have a sales process and a mechanism for people buying from you, easily. People not buying is often a symptom of them not understanding what you are selling, and more importantly, you not quite explaining it properly.

The brilliant thing is that you can improve on any of this, or all of it. You can get better at starting the little conversations and keeping them going until you hit the big opportunities. And don’t forget, that there will be lots of little opportunities along the way which are equally as important.

Every big opportunity starts with a little conversation – this article is over 1000 words long, which is why I like 8 word soundbites 🙂

“I implemented one more thing from the Retreat and it has resulted in a new client which gives me a positive ROI within 6 days”
Claire McTernan – Employee to Business Owner

“within two months I went from an average of one client per month from networking, to five clients”
Samantha Rollins, Trinity Accountants