Networking is one of the most powerful strategies available for getting your name known in the right circles and ultimately helping you to grow your business. The power of networking comes from connecting with people face to face and the drive that we have to help one another. Successful networking organisations such as BNI have adopted the philosophy, ‘Givers Gain’. This phrase refers to the well-known human behaviour known as reciprocity. If a person does something nice for another person, then that person will naturally want to respond in kind. To put it simply, when a member of the group passes on a referral to someone else within the group, the recipient will be inclined to find the other member more business in return.
At BNI groups, members attract new business via word of mouth using BNI’s unique Referral Marketing System, which is a method for generating a continuous flow of reliable, high-quality new business. Members in an individual BNI Chapter will work together to generate business for the other members of the group. They do this by giving out your cards and referring your business to people that they know or meet, and they are happy to do this because you have built a trusting relationship over time. They are also aware that you will be doing the same thing for them, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship.
A key part of being a successful networker comes back to your ability to be a good marketer. It’s important to be clear on your goals for your business and to know exactly what kind of work you are trying to win. Before attending a networking event, it is advisable to prepare in advance and decide what you would like to achieve while you are there. A good strategy is to focus on helping others, as well as looking for opportunities for your own business. Your willingness to help others will assist you in making a positive impression on other people at the networking event. You may want to plan a short-term strategy for individual networking events, as well as a longer-term strategy for any ongoing, regular events that you attend.
When you’re getting ready to attend a networking group, make a note of anyone you already know who is looking for certain products and services. There may be someone at the networking group who you can pass on the referral to and begin to build a relationship with. With social media platforms such as LinkedIn being so popular, it is tempting to think that people can always look you up, but there is still a lot of power in giving someone a physical business card. It makes it much more likely that they will remember you and be able to get in touch with you in the future, and will help to ensure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
It’s also a good idea to have an ‘elevator pitch’ prepared, that is a short, sharp summary that describes your business and gives people an outline of the benefits of working with you. It’s also a good idea to think about the kinds of people you would like to meet at the networking event. Which businesses are excellent referral partners for you? Is there a specific named individual to whom you would like to be introduced? If you aren’t able to answer these questions, then you may be missing out on the perfect business opportunity.
Make sure you dress in a manner that suits your industry and comes across as professional. Networking is less formal than it used to be, and there are certain roles where you won’t be expected to wear a suit, but you must still take pride in your appearance. Avoid looking bland and boring, as you want people to remember you. Adding a brightly coloured shirt or top, some funky glasses or another statement accessory will help you to stand out. Even carrying an unusual folder or notebook can become a good conversation starter and will make you more memorable.
Firstly, make a point of arriving on time, or being early. There can be a temptation to arrive a few minutes late, so that the group is already in full swing and you know that you’ll have someone to talk to, but the best time to arrive is ten minutes before the start. You can make some of your best contacts at this time, as you tend to end up talking to the influential and committed people who have also arrived early. It can also be much easier to break the ice with people at the start before they get deep into conversation with people they already know.
When you approach new people, aim to exude confidence even if you feel nervous. If you speak with someone, extend your hand and introduce yourself as soon as you can. You don’t need to keep the conversation focused on business alone – often you’ll find you connect with people when you talk about other things, such as hobbies or children – but do mention your business too. You never know who people might know and what opportunities they might bring your way.
It’s important to be yourself when networking and express some of your personality and your passion for what you do. A great way to connect is to tell stories – it’s one of the most powerful things you can do at networking meetings. Keep some anecdotes on hand that will amuse people and tell them something about you. You might have an interesting story about how you got into business, or perhaps a funny tale about the time you lost your car at the airport. Again, this will make you more memorable than someone who holds themselves back and doesn’t connect on a person-to-person basis.
While there is value in talking about your own business and who you know, it’s vital to listen to others during these ice-breaking conversations. Don’t dominate the conversation. Remember that most people love to talk about themselves, so make sure that you ask questions and pay attention to what others are saying. If you listen attentively, ask questions and show interest in other people, they will immediately warm to you.
Get to know the other members in the room – their likes and dislikes and who they are as people. Doing this will help to build relationships, as you will have previous discussions to refer to, making it easier to get the conversation flowing. Use people’s names too – most people love the sound of their own name, and if you’ve just met them it will also help you to remember it. After you’ve left the event, ensure that you follow up with people. Ask them how they found the event, and whether they think they will attend again.
To run a successful networking group, you must determine what you want to achieve and set yourself a realistic yet motivational goal. Normally your purpose will be to help people mix and mingle, and you can achieve this in many ways. BNI finds the most successful way to assist in this process is to make the events very structured. There is a standard format at each networking event, which allows people to network and also adds interest via a guest speaker who presents to the room. Everyone can stand up and talk about their business for 60 seconds, and also ask for a specific referral.
You must be friendly and sociable when you’re running an event. First impressions are crucial, and people need to feel welcome. Greet everyone as they arrive, ask them if there are particular types of business owners they would like to meet, and introduce them to someone relevant that they can chat to. Ensure you make an effort to say “thank you for coming” to every person who attends your networking event.
Overall, your aim is to ensure that both you and the other attendees enjoy the event. As well as the opportunity to connect and do business, networking events provide business owners with support and encouragement, and an opportunity to learn from others in business. Growth and education are additional positive benefits that come about as a result of networking. While the main reason for networking is usually to grow your business, building great relationships with others at the networking group is a bonus.
Building networking skills is not altogether very different from developing the skills we all use in general social situations such as at a party or other social gathering. If you treat the members of your networking group as potential friends rather than business contacts, you will find it much easier to develop a strong connection with people. Find common ground or shared interests, and aim to make each other laugh. There is no reason to take business networking too seriously.
Giving yourself something to work towards will motivate you and help to maximise the benefits of networking. Create a goal, whether it’s to make a certain amount of profit or to become more confident at public speaking. This goal will focus your mind and help you to make further personal and professional gains from networking.
Remember that networking is not a one-off process – it involves building and maintaining contacts and relationships with other people. An excellent way to build networking skills is to attend BNI training events. Not only will a course teach you new information and skills to help you grow your business, but it will also allow you to network with new people, giving you another opportunity to pick up networking skills and techniques.
Breaking the ice can be a challenge if you’re not the kind of person who enjoys walking into a room full of people that you don’t know. After all, many people rate that experience in their top three fears, along with death and public speaking. It’s important to remember that everyone is at the event for the same reason- they all want to grow their businesses. This means that people will be keen to talk to you
Preparation will help you with conversation openers, so have a think beforehand about some topics you may wish to discuss with people. For example, you may ask them how they heard about the event, what they do, or perhaps have some topical business-related news items that could make potential conversation starters (but it may be best to steer clear of anything too political).
Sometimes, just walking into the room with a big smile on your face is enough to break the ice. Make sure that you use open body language – avoid folding your arms – and smile at people as they enter the room to try to get them to join in your conversation. If you are friendly, most people will be friendly and open in return.
Using all of the advice above will help you to make a success of networking. Essentially, to be successful in a networking business, you need to be sociable. Talk to anyone and everyone. You need to get yourself noticed and leave a positive impression so that when a friend or family member of your fellow networker needs someone in your profession, they will immediately think of you and recommend you.
People still buy from people due to the trust element. They need to know you, like you and trust you before they will do business with you or refer you to their contacts. In the same way that people much prefer to find what they’re looking for in an organic search rather than a paid advertisement, meeting someone via networking, who is being sociable rather than going in for the hard sell, is a very positive and rewarding way to do business.
As people get to know you over time, and they hear that you’ve received good testimonials from other people that they trust, you will build up a trusting referral relationship, and they will start to refer business to you.