This article provides some useful tips for freelancers dabbling in networking (either in person or online).
It’s a guest post from Stefan Thomas, professional speaker, seasoned networker, and author of Business Networking for Dummies.
Take it away Stefan!
What is networking?
Networking is much more than just marketing, but the marketing aspect is why most small business owners attend their first networking event. The promise of a room full of prospective customers is enticing, particularly for those whose business hasn’t taken off in the way they’d hoped.
But how to approach networking in the right way, and how to turn a room full of strangers into prospective customers can be confusing. Lots of business owners get it wrong. So let’s spend a few minutes thinking about how to get it right.
If you’ve been invited to your first networking event, or you’re considering adding networking into your marketing mix, this article is for you. Equally if you’ve been going to networking events and feel that they’re not ‘working’ for you, this article should give you some useful pointers too.
Tip 1 – don’t “sell”
Firstly, that expectation of a room full of prospective customers isn’t quite right. The truth is everyone else at the networking event is there to promote their own business, just like you are. So to immediately treat them as prospective customers is, at best, premature.
These aren’t folk who have responded to an advert you’ve placed, or called you to ask how much you charge. They may well become customers or clients, but the relationship is significantly different to someone who has already expressed some interest in what you do.
Focus your energy and effort at first into building relationships with the other people in the room, or virtual room for many networking events post 2020. Be genuinely interested in them and what they do. As many networking groups encourage, organise one to one conversations with as many people in the room as you can. In other words, get to know them as people.
Tip 2 – prepare your intro
Secondly, most networking events will have time for each attendee to introduce themselves and their business. If you are going to get that opportunity, make sure you prepare for it, by writing and rehearsing your introduction. Importantly, pay attention to the timings. If you are asked to do a 60 second introduction, make sure you’ve timed what you’ll say, so you don’t get cut off before the important bit.
Remember your introduction is your opportunity to encourage people listening to find out more. What so many people do is to try to squeeze absolutely everything into that minute, which leaves the listener with no reason to come and talk to them afterwards. I’ve actually put together a 5 minute video showing you the exact template I use to create introductions for my clients:
Tip 3 – keep in touch
Thirdly, and most importantly, remember that the networking event is the start of the conversation, and not the whole of the conversation. Don’t feel that you have to achieve everything at the event itself. Instead of that, put time and effort into keeping in touch with people you meet networking.
Organise the one to one meetings I mentioned before. Connect with folk you meet on social media and keep in touch there too. Turn up to networking events regularly so you can keep visible to the people who might buy from you, or be able to refer people to buy from you.
Networking can, when approached correctly, build you a sustainable and predictable flow of clients. Both from the people you meet at networking events, and the people they may refer to you too. If it isn’t working for you now, adjust your approach until it does.
Stefan Thomas is the author of Business Networking for Dummies.
If you’d like to connect with him on LinkedIn, you’ll find him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefanthomasbiz/