I admit it, I'm not the most outgoing person in the world. I like people, but the prospect of trying to chat up a room full of total strangers in order to sell my work gives me anxious butterflies. It's disingenuous, and that makes the whole process kind of painful.
However, networking is extremely important. For us here at the Studio, it's one of our biggest sources of new business. It's an area of sales that simply cannot be ignored, so we've spent some serious time figuring out how to make this difficult process much less stressful and more effective. After hundreds of networking breakfasts, business lunches and speaking dos, we've rendered the process down to a five-step process that really works.
Step one: talk with the people you like
One of the big mistakes I used to make at networking events is speaking to people that don't interest me in the hopes it might turn into a sale. However, I was drastically overestimating my chances of getting lucky in the room. What ended up happening is that enthusiasm for the conversation rapidly dwindled, things got awkward and then we'd half-heartedly exchange contact details without bothering to follow up.
Try to think of networking events a little bit more like a party. Float around the room and meet a few people first, but don't hesitate to engage someone in deep conversation if you find them interesting. The goal is to spend your time with people you actually get on with (and who like you back!).
If you’re struggling for a way to connect with people, try this social hack often used by celebrities to earn themselves some charisma points. Tell somebody something that you haven’t told anyone else - a small secret that you two can share. Anything from “you know what? I am desperate to get out of these shoes” to “let’s go try and sneak another slice of pizza before anyone notices” will work great. This unique moment between you two will create a small bond that helps you feel like you’re on the same team. Give the impression that it's you versus the world.
Step two: don't even think about selling to them
There's nothing worse than feeling like somebody sees you as nothing other than a paycheck. Always treat people the way that you'd like to be treated. When you speak to a new person, they will quickly let you know if they're personally interested in your services. The chances are, however, that they don't have any kind of immediate need. Instead, get to know their business, listen to their stories and share a piece of yourself. Think of them as a potential friend, not as a potential sale.
Step three: follow up and work out what you can do to help them
Once you've made a new friend, you want to make sure they see you as a valuable connection.
That means figuring out what they need more of in their business and helping them to make it happen. This could be anything from specialist knowledge to more clients, a specific skill or just general support and direction. In the days following the event, get in touch via email and let them know you're there to help. Work closely with them to see how you can bring them closer to their goal. When you've provided them with enough value, you'll start to find that they want to do something to reciprocate. Anything from dropping them a link to finding them a new client can work, so try to be as helpful as possible.
Step four: use the footprint marketing tactic
We mentioned above how it's really unlikely that you're going to stumble across somebody who needs your product or service right now. However, every close connection you make brings you a step closer to a much larger network of potential clients. It's this network that you want to target. To do this we're going to be using a technique I like to call footprint marketing.
No matter what service you provide, that service is embedded in a system of other requisite steps. For example, if you build a website for a client, chances are that this client has already made the decision to start a business, registered it, secured funding and/or made a few sales before they looked for a web designer. These steps are their business 'footprints'.
If we approach our connection and ask for a referral, there's a strong chance that nobody in their network will come to mind. However, if we ask about footprints, we broaden our scope and predict the need before it comes up in conversation; "Do you know anybody starting a business right now? What about anyone struggling to make sales? What's the worst website design you've ever seen?".
Step five: ask for a referral with an insanely good special offer
Use the footprint marketing tactic to identify potential clients with your new best friend. Once they've named a few, approach them with a great referral offer that benefits all parties involved. Tell them that this offer is ongoing, so if they meet anyone new that fits your footprint criteria they can pass the offer on. In doing so, you've enriched your friend's network and created more opportunities for yourself.
At their next networking event, they'll be the cool, connected business person that's always ready to say "I can get you a GREAT deal on that".
This is how we approach networking at the Studio, but we’re always excited to hear your networking success stories. Drop us a comment or an email and let us know what you’ve found to be the best strategies for effective networking.
To learn a little more about how we help business grow here at the Studio, feel free to get in touch any time.