I recently wrote an article called “When Is Free Not Free?” and in it I discussed a few free or low-cost methods people use for advertising their businesses… and why that’s not always a great strategy.
After writing that article I realized that a lot of times people take the same route when it comes to business networking. Now before I go on about this let me clearly state that there is nothing wrong with “free” or “low cost” networking. What I want to talk about is “low value” networking.
When I refer to free or low cost networking, these are things like Chamber of Commerce business card exchanges or breakfasts, club meetings, trade shows and other events where there is either no cost to attend or a very low cost to attend. These are great places to meet and network with other businesspeople!
Then what do I mean when I say “low value” networking? This is a little more difficult to define as it can, and often is, subjective. I do think we can all remember a time when after leaving a networking event we said “Wow, what a huge waste of time that was!” That is what low-value networking is.
So what differentiates a low value from a medium value or high value event? Sometimes the simple answer is that there were people that you were looking to meet at the event. Other times it’s because you have some business fall in your lap while there. The thing that can really elevate your results from low quality to high quality though, is having a strategy.
I can hear you now… “Jason, we’ve heard that a million times already. Go to a networking event and make three new contacts. Blah, blah, blah…” You’re right. You have heard that a million times. But are you doing it? If so, are you doing it right? Going to an event and just setting out to meet three people may work, but it depends on how you approach this. Here are a couple examples.
“Hi! Nice to meet you Jack, my name is Jason. I own a website design and technology company that creates effective websites for businesses and solves IT problems for our clients. I’ve been doing this for longer than the internet has been popular. Let me tell you about some of what we’ve done for clients. we created a website for Super Mega Company that allows them to sell their products online. Another project we did was…” and I could go on and on. Does this sound like you?
How about this: “Hi, nice to meet you Jack! What is it that you do?” and then I listen. “Wow, that sounds interesting. What is it about rocket science that you enjoy the most?” and then I listen. “That’s really neat. I can see why you would enjoy that so much. Tell me, who are you likely to receive business from? Perhaps I know someone in that industry.” and then I listen. “Oh, you know what… a friend of mine, Susan is here today and she does exactly that! Why don’t I bring you over and introduce you to her? Would you like to meet her?”
See the difference here? In the first example it was all about me. I talked and talked and talked about how I could, essentially, sell them my services. In the second example I listened and then found I way that I could help them. I provided some value to them by making the introduction to Susan. Is Jack likely to remember me? Absolutely. Is Jack likely to meet me for coffee next week, allowing me to meet with him one-on-one and being able to really talk about business and how we could potentially work together? Absolutely. Why? Because I was focused on helping him and not worried about just making a sale. When I follow up with Jack a day or two after the event I would say something like “Hi Jack, this is Jason. We met the other night at that networking event where I introduced you to Susan. How did that work out for you?” Then I would ask if he’d like to meet for coffee or some other appropriate meeting.
Too many times we jump right to the sale. We’re so afraid of missing an opportunity that we try to get right to the deal. That’s no different than cold calling, and we all know how people feel about that!
You need to take the time to set up the relationship for success. My wife is an equestrian and there’s a celebrity trainer that has a saying that goes “take the time to take less time.” I love this saying! It’s easy to see how this could apply to networking by spending your energy to cultivate the relationship rather than jump to the sale. I would much rather spend the time and energy to establish a few high quality relationships that could provide business opportunities to me on a regular basis than have to work like a gerbil in the wheel making cold calls and trying to close deals. Another of my favorite sayings is “work smarter, not harder.” That applies here too.
So the next time you are at a Chamber of Commerce event, a BNI meeting or some other networking event, seize the opportunity to be a connector and a giver. BNI, which is an international organization that I am part of and truly believe in, bases its whole philosophy around giving. “Givers Gain” is their philosophy. If I help you then you (or someone else) will likely help me. Embrace it and live it and it’s most likely to happen. As a matter of fact, I'd love to introduce you to this group of people. Perhaps I can introduce you to someone who might be able to help your business grow! I also know some great people at the various Chambers of Commerece in Western Mass I can introduce you to as well!