Oh yes, I said it.
It’s not as bad as it first sounds. In fact, it’s good for you to get a little uncomfortable; it means you’re growing.
You’ve tried it all, right? Blogging, social media, newspaper and radio ads. But you’re still not getting as many new clients as you’d like. If you’ve been wondering how to reach new prospects and earn more clients, but you’re not sure what else to try: networking may be the answer. One word of caution before we dive in too deep though…building your network takes time. And it takes even more time to see results. Stick with me a minute and we’ll talk about why that’s a good thing!
It may help you to think of networking as just getting to know people, because that’s exactly what it is. (Doesn’t sound as intimidating when you phrase it that way, now does it!) People generally don’t do business with you unless they know you, or their friend or family member referred them to you. Getting to know someone is all part of relationship building, which takes time. Eventually you build up a bit of trust with new connections; this takes even more time. The good news is that building relationships leads to creating trust, which will lead to business–over time. People who know you, like you and trust you will want to do business with you. They are also much more likely to refer their network to you once they feel they know you.
I know many people are intimidated by the entire concept of walking into a room full of people, especially a room full of strangers. If you’re one of those people, take a minute to brush up on a few tips to help you get the most out of networking.
First, realize you’re not attending a networking event to sell something. That may sound backwards to you right now but the point is you cannot immediately launch into your sales pitch at these events. If you do, you will turn people off and they won’t give you the chance to get to know them, let alone earn their business.
The next step is to locate an event that you will feel reasonably comfortable attending. By reasonable I mean you won’t be standing in the corner trying to disappear because you’re in a roomful of 500 people. If you hate large crowds, choose an event with limited seating and a more structured agenda so you have a better idea of what to expect during the time you’re there.
It will help you to prepare beforehand, so take a few minutes the night before to research the event. What kinds of people will be attending? Is it a business casual lunch or a more informal happy hour social? Dress accordingly and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to the event. This should go without saying but do make sure you have plenty of business cards on you.
As you attend the event remember that you’re there to meet new people, so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. There will be other people there that are new and quite possibly as uncomfortable as you are; go talk to them! Ask for that person’s business card so you can begin building up your new network. You may know someone who needs the product or service your new connection provides, and they may know someone who could benefit from working with you and your business.
After the event, don’t just toss the business cards you collected into a pile to be forgotten. Look up the people you met on LinkedIn and send them a personalized connection request. Consider entering their contact information into a spreadsheet or another digital format you’re comfortable with. That way, when you think of a referral or have a question for that banker you met, you can easily pull up your spreadsheet and find his or her email address rather than slogging through a stack of unorganized business cards.
Don’t just stop at one networking event. Keep attending the ones that interest you and don’t forget to introduce yourself to new people. Always be expanding your network!