Networking—needs working at, but it’s worth it.
Guest Blog by Jeremy Marchant
Few business people would turn their noses up at more clients. Most of them understand that business networking is an excellent way of finding them, particularly if you have been recommended by someone they know, like and trust whom you met at a networking event.
It’s at this point that many business people falter. Some try networking in an effort to achieve this and find that, although they did what they had been taught—or, maybe, they just played it by ear—the rewards were slim or non-existent. Others don’t believe it’s possible, so they don’t try. Or, maybe, they send a few juniors to events on the grounds that, at least, it’s character-building.
Some people, of course, do achieve a situation where their business contacts are referring their business contacts who become clients. How come?
Firstly, if you expect people to refer their contacts to you, you have to be willing and able to refer yours to them. This is likely to exclude many potential referrers who, however willing, simply don’t know many, or any, people who may be your potential clients. But, secondly, and this is a problem for some, there is an attitude of ‘Why should I refer my contacts with no certainty that I will get good contacts back?’
The answer to that, frankly, is that you have to try it and see if it works. Preferably without having any expectations that it will. However, I am certainly not talking about giving your contacts to a stranger.
I am suggesting that the person whom you help—and who, therefore, is highly motivated to help you—is someone with whom you are building a good working relationship, over several one-to-one meetings. Someone whose business you understand and who understands yours. Someone you know, like and trust, and who feels the same about you.
This is networking. Going to a ‘networking event’ isn’t networking. Networking is building good professional relationships with other people in face-to-face meetings. The value of networking events is that they provide you with a simple, fast way of finding candidates for those special business relationships I have just described. The point of going to a networking event therefore is not to find clients. It is to find people who know clients.
But, faced with a group of twenty to thirty people, which of them could be your networking partner? In truth, you have to find out by meeting people after the event.
Since you don’t know who might be such a partner without asking them, you really ought to have one-to-one meetings with all of them. This need not be time-consuming since, for a start, some people will decline or simply ignore your invitation. Those who accept have already shown a willingness in theory, so explore the possibilities with them. Some of these conversations will be brief.
I suggest a two stage approach. Firstly, just explore the possibilities, find common points of connection (target market, type of client and so on). At the end of the, possibly, short conversation, set up another meeting, but only if both parties agree it would be a good use of their time. Whatever the outcome of the first conversation, don’t forget to ask (and ask in these words), ‘Who do you know who might be interested in this?’ And then contact anyone whose name you are given.
At the second stage, be clear from the outset that the purpose of the meeting is to explore whether some sort of referral relationship might be possible. Don’t assume that it will be. It will take more than another meeting to be confident about that.
Here’s why it will take that long, and why so many attempts to set up these working relationships fail: each party has reservations about the other which they don’t articulate.
Hoping, perhaps, that the reservations will go away if the are ignored (they won’t), they plough on. Worse, some the reservations are likely to be subconscious so we really are unaware of them.
Be willing to share yours that you can identify. They could be around the other person’s competence, or consistency (are the person’s colleagues as competent as they are?), integrity (will they nick your clients and pass them to their friend?), confidentiality, reliability and so on. Do they really have contacts they can refer to you? Reservations are rarely grounded in fact at this stage but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
As reservations are resolved on both sides, you may find that the whole relationship collapses. If so, it would have collapsed later, wasting time and effort. But, if the idea of forming a working relationship with another businessperson survives this scrutiny, you are both well on the way to a productive association and new business.
Jeremy Marchant specialises in helping businesspeople apply emotional intelligence to improve the performance of their businesses. This is about developing productive and profitable relationships with people (inside and outside the business) and that starts with networking. His book, Network better, is published on 31 october.