How do I Network and How do I Increase the Number of Contacts in my Data Base
Networking skills are essential if you want to build your client base and they are absolutely crucial when it comes to developing business relationships.
You are Self Employed……..Now What
Years ago I left a professional career to join the ranks of the self employed. I wasn’t independently wealthy so I admit it was a little scary turning my back on the security of a steady paycheck but I truly believed I could do anything and do it well. My new business associates had been self employed for eight or nine years and were successful and this led me to believe that I had a support system in place to help me get started.
But how does a newly self employed business person get started? In order to succeed in any business you need one thing….Clients! Yes you have to have a good product, competitive price and great service but if you haven’t got those ingredients you will never have any clients to speak of. So for arguments sake let’s assume your business model is solid and that isn’t the problem.
What did I do? I went to my mentors and asked them, “how do I get started and how do I get clients?” They told me to advertise and to get out and meet people. They even bought me business cards! Wow I was set! I was handing out business cards to everyone I met, attending functions handing out more cards, and advertised in the news paper at substantial cost. I even printed up flyers and designed mail-outs, had some delivered through the mail and door to door, at more expense.
How did that work out? Zilch, nada, zippo, nyet, squat, goose egg, diddly, kaput, EL-CRAPPO at considerable expense I might add. I did manage to get a few Clients, all of who were referred to me by people that knew me, not from anything I did. Obviously I didn’t know how to advertise properly but funny thing, even the so called ad-experts who design brochures and newspaper ads did nothing to boost my ratings, it only cost me more.
I ended up doing what most unsuccessful self employed business people do starting out, I failed and I failed miserably. The reason I floundered was simply that I wasn’t efficient at attracting potential clients and building any sort of client base. I went to seminars and workshops and listened to the most successful business entrepreneurs I could find. There was no doubt these speakers had made fortunes doing what they know best but none of them communicated to me how to network and how to get clients when you don’t have any. Though I felt most of these events were quite useless, I did manage to walk away with a few tidbits that were helpful once I had clients.
Part 2 – What is networking?
According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary networking is “: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business” Eureka! I knew that was the purpose now I just need to know how to do it? Am I back to handing out business cards? Funny thing is that I only discovered how to network after I ran out of business cards.
It’s true. In 2011 I ran out of business cards and because I was looking for something different to include on my card that would make me more memorable, I hadn’t gotten around to printing any. Face it most business cards look the same, picture off to one side, contact information and then some corny line about how your referrals are their utmost compliment. What a bunch of crap! People don’t care about your “utmost compliment” and the reason they don’t care is because they don’t know you and if they don’t know you they won’t trust you with their own business or a referral. It’s true. If you think you are going to introduce yourself to a stranger with no referred introduction, hand them your card and expect to do business with them you are wrong. Your card will most likely go from their pocket, to the desk drawer, to the garbage can.
Now up to this point practically all of my Clients came to me by referral from other clients and past business associates. This is a good thing, right? Yes this is a very good thing but it can be a long slow process and when you are starting out and you don’t have cash flow you need to kick start your business as quickly and in as many ways as possible. If networking is going to be one of your avenues to find potential clients then you had better know how to network or you will be wasting your time.
What you are about to read will be different from how you currently “network” and it may be outside of your comfort zone but I’m going to assume that you are reading this because your current methods aren’t generating the results you want. Remember, what I have documented didn’t arrive out of a brain-storming session it was a metamorphous of something I did naturally because of my impromptu change in approach. It was fortunate to recognize what was happening because then I could analyze situations and refine them to become more successful. This process of meeting new people and afterward being able to confidently say that there is a strong potential for a business relationship I now refer to as the “art of networking”.
Part 3 – Networking outside the venue
For this article we are going to assume that you are presentable, professional, of sound mind and you know your product. If you don’t have the qualities I just mentioned even great networking skills won’t help you so get the necessary help you need to take your game to the next level.
So what is the number 1 reason why potential clients won’t work with you? They don’t know you and/or they don’t trust you. Why would you expect a complete stranger to invest time or money with you if they don’t know you or trust you? Bottom line is you wouldn’t do it and neither will the person you just met.
Typical networking event scenario: Large indoor facility with anywhere from a couple of dozen people to a couple of hundred. Food table, possible beer/wine service, maybe some display tables, typically organized by the Chamber of Commerce or another Business Association.
Networking begins the moment you arrive at or near the location. The first thing you do is scan the crowd to see if there is anyone you recognize. You are not looking for a safety net in case you don’t know anyone you just want to make sure that you remember who those people are and what they do. (I will explain how I do that later) If there is a line up to get in that is a great place to have a conversation because you are forced to stand together without the formal introductions. This is a great place to warm up if you aren’t totally comfortable speaking to people you don’t know. You can talk about anything from the great weather on the weekend to the car accident down the street just don’t talk about business because all you are doing at this point is preparation. When the person next to you speaks, pay close attention and remember the details of your conversation. After exchanging a few niceties introduce yourself by offering to shake hands and providing both your first and last name. When you do this the person you are talking to will most likely provide their first and last name.
Now you are at the registration table. Always make conversation with the people that take your name, provide your tickets, name tags, take your money etc. If the event you are attending is a reoccurring function eventually the registration people will recognize you and when that conversation becomes more personal others in line will notice. When filling out a name tag try writing something different rather than your name or the name of your business. Most people will look to see what your first name is and very few go beyond that, but if you write something humorous like a fictitious name or “free hugs” you will notice people lean inward in order to clearly see what you wrote. This can be a great ice-breaker and instantly vault you into conversations with people you don’t know. For those who only read first names most will have forgotten who you are by the time they walk away.
Part 4 – Networking inside the venue
Once you are in continue to scan the crowd for contacts you know and I’m not referring to co-workers or close friends. I am referring to people you have made contact with at previous events or those that have a business that may be of benefit to you. If you recognize someone but can’t remember who they are, look them up on your cell phone to confirm their name and read the last notes you made about them. (Explanation later) The contacts you recognize from a previous event are a good starting point but don’t migrate their way until they are having a conversation with someone you don’t know.
When you spot a contact in that type of scenario, having a conversation, walk over and say hello addressing them by their first name and shaking hands. Immediately introduce yourself the people you don’t know offering a hand shake and clearly giving your first and last name. This helps your contact out of an embarrassing situation in the off chance they don’t recall your name. You can now turn to your contact and make reference to something from your last conversation. Listen intently to your contact and anything your new contacts have to say. When you direct your attention to one of the new contacts ask where they are from as opposed to what they do. Remember you are not talking about where you work or what you do unless someone from the group asks you.
You have now broken the ice with one or more people that you didn’t know prior to arrival. Keep the conversation on topic to what the new contact is talking about and only offer if you have direct knowledge. When the opportunity arises you can ask the new contact what they do or where they work and once again only offer input if you have credible information. The strategy here is that typically when you ask a person what they do for a living, eventually they will ask you the same question but you are still not ready to talk about yourself unless you are asked a specific question. What you want to do is find an opportunity during your conversation where you can assist the new contact. For example: Your new contact is having some weird mechanical problem with their vehicle and it just so happens you know someone at the event who is a wizard with cars. Say to the contact, “I know someone here that you really should talk to. If you like I can introduce you and maybe they can explain the difficulty you are having”. Be careful who you bring together because you want that connection to work as well and you don’t want to steer away potential business.
What have you just done? You have provided assistance to one of your new contacts without asking for anything in return and you may have referred a new client to the “mechanic”. If your new contact and the mechanic hit it off, they will both look at you in a different light. You have shown yourself to be a good person to know and a potentially valuable asset. The new contacts you’ve helped usually want to know more about you and begin asking more personal questions about what you do. Sooner or later they will ask you for a business card and here is where you nail it. Your response will be; “I don’t have business cards as I pretty much work by referral only, but I’ll tell you what, do you have a cell phone”? By this point you are already pulling your phone out. Say to them, “Let’s enter our contact information into our cell phones right now” Important to get: First and last name, cell phone number, email address, the rest you can get later. Once complete, show your phone to the contact to insure you have the information correct. This takes longer than swapping business cards but you create a more powerful connection and your information ends up in their data base and not in their garbage can.
Once you have met everyone in that particular group and exchanged information with those connections you deem potentials, move on. I don’t see much value in spending time chatting with associates from your own office. Face it, if they are engaged with a potential client they aren’t going to want you butting in and you wouldn’t appreciate that either.
If you go to a networking event and you don’t recognize anyone here is what you do. Station yourself at a location where people are collecting, whether it’s a food table, wine table, display booth etc. If there is traffic you want to be there. The food table isn’t quite as good some other locations because it isn’t convenient to get a conversation going with someone when they are eating. If however they are pondering a choice you could step in and make a comment on what you tried that was good or ask for their opinion. You can take the same approach at the wine table or the display booth and the desired result at this point is only to engage in casual conversation with a mid-term goal of asking where they are from and continue from there. Food is relatively easy to grade, but be careful at the wine table. You don’t want to be commenting on wine if you have limited knowledge. There are plenty of wine lovers and you just never know who you are entering a conversation with. The last thing you want to do is pitch yourself as if you are wine educated only to expose what little you know to someone with more experience. The good news is that most wine enthusiasts would love to share some of their expertise and that gets you the conversation you were looking for, so follow through.
Before the event comes to an end you want to touch base with those people you met in the line up. You have had lots of time to think of additional material or interesting/amusing facts that didn’t come up in the original conversation. You know their names, so be sure to address them properly when you reacquaint yourself. Once again the mid-term goal is the same, to get to the “where are you from” point of the conversation. The end game is when you both enter your information into each other’s data base. Not every meeting will work out exactly according to plan but as you gain confidence and experience you will be able to adjust to more challenging situations. You won’t be able to assist everyone you meet either, but that offer of help doesn’t have to be during that initial introduction. Once you have that contact in your data base you can reach them at any time to pass on valuable information.
Part 5 – After the Event
Whether you go home or back to the office the first thing you do when you arrive is to go back to those contact entries and add some notes. Whether you do it on your laptop or cell phone those notes will include the location and date of the event, where you met the contact or who they were with. Describe the conversation you had and anything of importance that stood out. The reason you are doing this is so the next time you see that person you might only recall where you met them and not their name. Now you will be able to query the location on your phone and retrieve all the contacts you made at that particular event. From there you should be able to figure out who you recognized and refresh your memory with their personal information. Read the notes so when you reacquaint yourself you can ask about some of those details. This is very important because now that contact believes you were not only interested in what they had to say, but you listened and remembered. This takes your relationship to a new level and a lot closer to obtaining the trust you want to earn.
This technique may seem like you are following a script and that your only concern is to obtain contact information but what you are going to find is that the more you engage someone in conversation the more you learn about them and the more interesting they are. If your one purpose is to squeeze everyone you meet for what you can get it will eventually become obvious to those around you and people will begin to distance themselves. Remember, the reason I discovered the true art of networking is because a lot of these things I was already doing I just hadn’t realized the connection until after I ran out of business cards. It was at this point I incorporated a more professional approach but the end result remains the same and it was my sincerity that turned many of these first time contacts into good friends, associates and Clients.
Written by David Iverson Mortgage Broker
White House Mortgages
107 – 1980 Cooper Rd Kelowna BC V1Y 8K5