Watch the video here
I’m often asked by clients and business peers for tips on networking. You hear it all the time, right? Networking is the way to make your business grow. It can open up opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise, connect you to powerful people, and lead to increased sales and referrals.
These statements are certainly true, but with all this emphasis on the results of networking, people tend to get lost in the practice. It becomes an intimidating challenge or even a tedious chore. In this blog, and in my accompanying video, I take the concept of networking and break it down to its simplest steps. By looking at networking from a practical point of view, it becomes much easier to do.
1. Get out there and meet people
Easier said than done? It doesn’t have to be. The first part of this step is the easiest – get out there. By this I mean look up networking events in your area. A good source for this is your chamber of commerce website. You may also be part of a club or association that hosts regular events and luncheons. Go to one, pick a table, and introduce yourself to the people around you.
A lot of intimidation comes from the fact that people think they need to sell themselves or their business to each person they speak to at a networking event. DON’T SELL! I can’t emphasize this enough. Networking can lead to sales, but it shouldn’t start there. Just have a conversation first.
What do most conversations start with? Small talk. I can see the uncomfortable look on your face now. Most people hate small talk, either because they think it’s boring and mundane or because they want to get straight to the meaningful stuff. Don’t frighten people away by jumping into a deep conversation before asking how they’re doing, commenting on the event, or even talking about the weather. Yes, the weather. Get comfortable with the people you’re speaking to rather than leading with your life story, hopes and dreams, or biggest secrets.
2. Ask questions
Now, ask them what they do. Ask them what they’re interested in. Hopefully your questions bring up commonalities between you and the person you’re speaking with, leading to a natural topic expansion. This is where the conversation would expand to include business. Tell them what you do and what you hope to accomplish, why you come to events like these. I think you’ll find that most conversations are easy and flow naturally.
Your network should be made up of individuals from all kinds of businesses. Be a connector of people. The person you’re talking to might not be in need of your services, but maybe they’re looking for an accountant (send them our way). Connect that person with someone you know, and they are likely to return the favor, referring their connections to you.
Pro Tip (especially for young professionals): This networking thing can seem like kind of a headache, right? If you’re nervous about going to an event for the sole purpose of networking, bring a friend. But don’t use this person as a crutch. Instead, meet up with your friend between each of the conversations you engage in. Use this time as a breather. He or she can act as a tension diffuser after an awkward conversation and psych you back up for small talk. Hang out with your friend for a few minutes, and then split up again to seek the professional connections you came for.
3. Follow Up
Hopefully after having met these new people, you’ve collected business cards or exchanged contact information. Send an email or card letting them know you enjoyed meeting them. Offer to give them a call or have lunch to discuss more of what you do and how you can help each other grow.
Just like that, your network has grown by one person! It doesn’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Follow those simple steps, and you’ll make connections everywhere you go.
I want to challenge you to start expanding your network today. The next time you’re in an elevator with someone, introduce yourself. It’s great practice for networking events, and who knows who you might meet!
Want more tips on building your business? Listen to my podcast on iTunes! I’ll teach you how to grow from an operator to a rainmaker.
Jonathan Frost, CPA/MBA