Networking isn’t just about networking

Stefan Thomas The Networking Retreat

When people ask me to coach them in networking skills and to help them get better results, they usually start out by expecting that we will just talk about networking. What they are often looking for, in my experience, is to become ‘better’ at networking in isolation.

I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people now and, whilst there is no one solution, very often the way to get ‘better’ at networking is to look at the whole picture, what is done outside networking as well as what we do at the events themselves.

In order for networking to lead to more sales, there are a number of things which will make a huge difference. Most people do some of these with great effect. I know a few people who do all of them with absolutely devastating effect.

Here are what I reckon the elements are:

A killer 40/60 seconds — in a lot of ways this can be the easiest to achieve and, even on it’s own, will lead to an improvement in the number of enquiries and referrals that you receive at networking events. I write 40 seconds and 60 seconds for a lot of my clients, and help them to update them, which is also super important. It does trouble me that I still see people invest so much into their networking, but not have a planned and rehearsed introduction when they stand up, Like any part of your marketing this is worth spending time on, getting advice on, and altering it depending on the feedback (which might be silent).

A plan for your 121s — whether this is the 10 minute in meeting 121s or longer 121s outside the networking event, these aren’t just meant to be a nice chat, but so often that is exactly what happens. What is your plan? What will you talk to the other person about (clue, you’re not there to sell to them)? And will you take any action as a result of the 121?

A plan for the meeting itself — Be there early, stay after the meeting has finished but, crucially, do it with purpose. Yes, there is a social element to every networking meeting I’ve been to but whether it is 50% social or 90% social is up to you. You set the pace and decide how you approach each meeting, and then act accordingly when you’re there.

A structure for following up — I’ve been banging on about following up for years now, and still so many people leave the responsibility to the other guy. Take responsibility for the conversation yourself and whether the follow up is active or passive, do SOMETHING. Every big opportunity starts with a little conversation, so take responsibility for keeping those conversations going, so they lead to as many big opportunities as possible. Ideally, invest in a CRM and have a plan for each type of follow up.

A product or service which makes it easy for people to buy from you — No matter how good your networking, people need to know exactly what you’re selling, and how they can buy it. Specifically what do people get from working with you or buying your stuff. You need to understand that, so that you can help your networking contacts understand it. When you make your stuff really easy for people to understand, then you hugely increase your chance of getting referrals.

Clarity on the referrals you are looking for — Just as important as being clear about the product or service you offer, clarity on the type of referrals you are looking for is vital. Specificity is the key, you take responsibility for thinking about the referral you really want, don’t leave your busy networking contacts with the job of having to think about it.

A presence on the internet — a website which works and helps people to join your crowd and/or buy your stuff has been vital for businesses since the late 90s. For so many of us, this is our shopfront, Even in the age of Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles and Instagram feeds, a website can be a central hub for everything else we do. In fact for lots of us, we need more than one site to reflect the different sides to our business.

Be the first to bring value to the relationship — whether that means actively looking for referrals for others (and you really really should), or looking out for opportunities, or providing some advice or guidance which might be helpful. Those who are known for being helpful and generous become the “go to” people in each networking group. This does not mean giving your stuff away for free, although that often gets misinterpreted.

A vibrant and active social media footprint — continue to be visible in between meetings with social media. This does not mean just having stuff scheduled. It means understanding where your contacts live on social, whether that is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, SoundCloud or wherever it might be and going to them. In 2018 we have so many tools to engage with our networking contacts, and the real opportunity is that most people won’t bother. Effort is currency and your effort will be rewarded with reciprocal engagement and sales, when you get it right.

A content marketing strategy — “we’ve written some blogs” isn’t a strategy. Having a blog which tells people in detail about your recent head office move, or Sharon’s promotion, isn’t a strategy. Creating blogs, articles, videos, podcasts with purpose can add SO much to your networking. They can demonstrate that you’re an expert in your field, they can help you be the first to bring value to the relationship in a scaleable way, and they can educate your prospective clients, so they know EXACTLY why they need to buy from you. Once again, creating quality content takes effort but it so worthwhile and will result in sales.

Email marketing — I don’t know how many times I’ve been told “but Email marketing is dead” or “open rates are so much lower than 10 years ago”. But for any of my events, I can track a proportion of the sale DIRECTLY to my Email campaign. I can see the person opening my Email, going to my site and booking. Of course open rates are lower than they were a decade ago. I remember a time when every Email I received was really exciting. I remember the estate agents I was working for getting Email for the first time. I remember someone telling me that Email would never take off and we would all go back to using faxes before long! And I’ve received more Emails in the time that I am writing this article, than I would have received in a week twenty years ago. The fact that one person opens and reds your Email is enormously flattering and, if someone is reading lots of your Emails, that is exactly the person you should be in touch with today.

Traditional marketing — for many businesses leaflet distribution, advertising, exhibiting at shows, targeted mail campaigns and anything else which came before social media is incredibly valuable. In fact, looking at the paragraph above, receiving lumpy mail is what we get excited about now. A load of my contacts use postcards in their marketing to enormous effect. Just because social exists, doesn’t mean that other forms of marketing should be ignored.

PR — the opportunity which most businesses miss just because they don’t understand it. I always loved the concept of being seen everywhere. Imagine someone has read some of your stuff online, and then hears you on the radio or reads about you in the newspaper. This is 100% achievable for any business, anywhere. And once again, most businesses won’t bother because it requires a little bit of effort, or engaging someone else to do it.

Sales — still a dirty word amongst so many business owners and yet still the key which unlocks all of the above. Understanding what you’re selling and how to effectively sell it can transform businesses and business owners. The increased confidence, cash flow, experience and growth which occurs when we get this right, shines in stark contrast to when we get it wrong.

Every day I work with my clients I try to look at joining up all of the above, or as much of it as they can cope with. Frankly getting three or four of these right puts most business owners head and shoulders ahead of their competition.

What bits are you getting right? Which aspects aren’t working for you right now? Which should you be doing more of because they work so well for you?

Make a plan, take action, rinse and repeat.

“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