Last month, I wrote a blog post on how to network your way to entrepreneurial opportunities. In the newsletters of the next few months, I’d like to amp the concept of networking up to a much higher level. Because done well, networking is an art and skill that can light up your life – both professionally and personally.
One of the first comments I get from physician clients with businesses is “I need to be socially adept to get noticed/pitch my idea/sell my services/ask for referrals and I don’t know how to do this”.
Rather than jump right away into a quick-fix solution, I prefer to take a step back and look at what my client has done towards building one of his or her business’s most valuable long-term assets – a network.
A network is not merely an old-boys club of backslapping grey-heads exchanging business cards. Or college alumni residing in a rolodex that you call on to make that fabulous introduction.
Instead, in 2007, a network is a meticulously cultivated and nurtured interconnection of relationships that is able to exist equally well in cyberspace as in a physical space – take the examples of MySpace or LinkedIn, where new connections are being forged in the thousands every day!
Building a network is a skill that even a serious introvert can acquire, by following certain principles. Here are three tips, to elevate your networking skills to a fine art.
Networking Tip 1: Getting to know you
Most people would rather have a tooth drilled than try and “sell” to a stranger at a networking event. And yet, common wisdom has us believe that the only way to get word out about what we do is attend educational breakfast events, mixers and post-conference networking meetings.
One way to stress infinitely less over what to say about your products or services is …… to say nothing! Unless specifically asked, in which case it would appear rude not to answer.
What if, instead of having to talk about yourself and your business, your one and only intention for the meeting was to get acquainted with three or four people?
Bob Burg, author of “Endless Referrals”, offers sage insights along these lines:
Everyone knows, on average, 250 people – friends, family, colleagues, support services (hairdresser, plumber, accountant, physician etc). That means that any time you connect with one person to the point that they know, like and trust you, you have increased your sphere of influence by 250 people. If you start to build relationships with four people at an event, you have in effect increased your personal sphere of influence by 1000 people!
The steps to starting a new relationship at a meeting might be:
1. Go up to someone you want to meet, show a friendly smile and greet the person
2. Exchange names
3. Start the conversation by asking “feel good” questions, such as “How did you get started in the xyz business?” (don’t we call love to talk about ourselves?) and “What do you enjoy most about what you do?”
4. Now comes the BIG question – the one that will separate you from every other person competing for space in this person’s memory bank – you ask them “How would I know if someone I was talking to would be a good prospective client for you? I’d really like to know who your ideal clients/customers/patients are, so that I could send them your way”. What makes this such a great question is that it asks “How can I be of help to you?” instead of the anticipated “How can you help me?”
5. As the conversation winds down, ask for a business card. Note that it is OKAY if you haven’t talked about your business yet. That isn’t your job today. Your job is to start building relationships!
Networking Tip 2: Give, give, give.
A good real estate deal thrives on “location, location, location”. Excellent networking is characterized by the mantra of “give, give, give”.
Robert Cialdini writes in his wonderful book “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion” that we are psychologically motivated by the Rule of Reciprocation. When someone is good to us, we feel indebted and seek to find ways to repay our debt – we look out for ways to reciprocate with our own kindness and generosity. If you give me a “freebie” of some value, I won’t feel entirely comfortable until I have made an introduction, a referral, or even considered buying your services or products for myself at the right time.
An entrepreneur I worked with turned her business around by making one small change in her marketing activities. She created a thoughtful report, with useful ideas and tips for her particular target market of clients, and she offered to mail it to anyone if they give her a business card with a mailing address. Imagine what happened next? Instead of measuring the success of a meeting by the number of business cards she handed out, she measured it by the number of cards she returned to her office with, for follow up.
Networking Tip 3: It’s all in the follow-up.
Per Bob Burg again, after your meeting, pull out all those business cards right away, drop a hand addressed and handwritten note (“Dear So-and-so, I really enjoyed meeting you at abc meeting. I am including the article/website name/referral I promised to send. If I can ever refer business your way, I certainly will.” – signed with your name, with your business name, email and phone number underneath).
Burg even suggests that you have handy a stack of blank notecards, pre-printed on classy stationery, with your company name and contact information, inserted into unaddressed but stamped envelopes. All you have to do after a meeting is pull out the one or two that you need, write and address the quick note, add any relevant attachments and pop the envelope in the mail
How much more memorable do you think you’d be, by following this non palpitation-inducing steps?
Next month I will describe further tips to take the “nah” out of networking.
I challenge you to try these steps just once or twice in the next few weeks, and see the difference!
If you have any success to report, or other networking ideas that have worked for you, please share them on my blog or drop me a line at Philippa@entrepreneurialMD.com.