Networking: From Ick to Results

Bad Networker

Happy Friday beautiful people!

Yes, this post was supposed to be a vlog post weeks ago, but we had some technical issues and I really really wanted to get this post DONE and out there. I know some of you have just started out on your business journey or are stuggling with getting new clients…and this post is important.

HeartI want to send lots of gratitude to those who commented on my vlog either publicly or privately! Thanks for your ideas, comments, kind words and ways to make it better. I truly appreciate it. And it will happen again. My favourite New-Jersey-an gave me some tips on how to make my sound quality better, and will be working on that to get it right! And I have lots more ideas of videos where I can share super awesome stuff. Excited!

For now though, let’s get down to business and talk networking.  I am not a networking expert by any means. But I know some people avoid it and I want to share with you how I learned to love it from loathing it. As usual, I share my story.

I was lucky that the first year I officially “launched” my business, my warm network kept me busy and the bills paid. However, I knew that if I was going to grow, or have any security whatsoever, I needed to branch out and keep adding clients. The thought of how to do this was perplexing. I literally thought (no joke) that as soon as my website launched, the phone would start ringing. Ha! I’m sure some of you can relate.

Quickly it became apparent that no one knew who I was, and according to my mentors, I really needed to GET OUT THERE and hit the networking events.

“Like, shake hands and be salesy and exchange business cards all over the flippin place? Ick.” I replied.

Bad Networker
Don’t follow Simon’s lead.

Here’s what I pictured: Walking into a room of people I don’t know, making small talk about the weather for a few hours with sleazy-salespeople types, being assaulted by business cards and winking and a lot of “hey now’s” and finger-guns. I was in sales. I went to sales conferences. I saw. And it was icky. Plus, I am not one for small talk. I’m much more the “let’s grab a beer and we’ll dive into your life story” type.

Quickly though, as my phone sat silently, I began to clue in: if you don’t put yourself out there, no one will find you. You can hang your sign and bang on a pan all you want, but if you’re not connecting and reaching out (just like I tell people to do on social media), you’re really not there. So there.

So I dragged myself out there and left the pan at home.

Once I started going to networking events, the sleezy ickyness of how my mind pictured it wasn’t entirely true. In fact, 98% of the time it was entirely false. I met some pretty awesome people. I got some pretty awesome business. I learned some pretty awesome things.  The referrals, and “tribe building” as I like to call it has been wonderful. You develop relationships with people who can be a huge help if you need to refer a client or just ask a question.

Building a tribe (or network) of like-minded, seriously awesome entrepreneurs JUST LIKE YOU. Doesn’t that sound fun?

And sure there are a few finger-gun toting, run-you-over-like-a-steamtrain types at these events. But guess what? You don’t have to talk to them! You can politely introduce yourself and move on to other conversation. Or you may actually hit it off with them.

Networking for Shy People

So for lots of people, shy or not, walking into a room full of strangers isn’t comfortable. I know very few people that are totally cool with not knowing anyone and standing up and giving a mini-talk on themselves. Depending on who you are, this could range from a mild discomfort to absolute misery. But I have good news! You’re normal!

One of the things that got me over this weirdness was to be the person that made others feel comfortable. Smile, extend your hand and be totally genuine. Walk over to the person standing alone. Make them feel totally relaxed and this will help you feel more comfortable too. If you happen to know someone else there, make an introduction. Take gentle initiative…even if you’re shy.

Don’t Work the Room

Also the whole notion of “working the room” is bollocks as far as I’m concerned. My best connections are ones where a bit of time has been spent chatting, getting to know and connecting. If my mindset was to walk in, talk to everyone a bit and hand out as many business cards as possible I’m missing the beginning of relationship building with a possible new client, amazing referral, or new member of my tribe. Not everyone in the room will be a great connection, but if you have a great rapport and conversation going with someone, don’t kill it by needing to be all over everyone else. In my opinion, if you leave a networking event with one great connection, you’ve been successful. It kind of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

I have heard so many times at events “I was so nervous to come”. I think this is a reason why many people avoid them. If you’re going to rock your business and fill your pipeline, getting out and making yourself known is what needs to happen. I promise I haven’t been bitten once. I also promise that you will leave a networking event feeling better than when you came in…even if there were no potential clients there. It’s the energy of connecting with others who are just like you in some shape or form (the GET that being a business owner is awesome and challenging at the same time).

Nail Your Pitch

When it’s time to stand up and introduce yourself, make sure you know what you’re going to say. Practice your 30 or 60 second pitch. And I find the  more I do it, the better I get. It’s nowhere near perfect but it’s getting better and I don’t stress about it anymore. Public speaking for most is really icky, but if you get the main points of your biz across clearly, you’ve nailed it. If you think you might freeze in front of a new crowd, have it written down! I see people doing this sometimes, and I personally think it’s totally fine.  Remember, no one likes public speaking! You can do this.

Best Places To Network

So, not all networking events are the same, and often times it’s trial and error to figure out which events produce the best results for you.

Referral networking groups like BNI and LeTip are membership based, most are held weekly, and the members of each group are responsible for bringing in leads and referrals to other new members. There is exclusivity within each chapter, so there can’t be more than one real estate agent, for example. I am not currently a member of either of these groups but have attended several meetings and know many people who are. Some of the results have been remarkable.

Chamber of Commerce-type events in your area are another great option and usually have lots of great attendees. You don’t have to be a member to attend, but usually there is a small fee. They have great information-type events with networking integrated. Learn and meet! – Lot’s of networkers head to Meetup to promote their events. They may be people who are holding one event, or have a series of events. Look for places in your area, and attend those who appear to be well established. Many of these events are free or for a very small fee.

Industry Events – Hang out where your target market is! If you are an accountant who caters to small construction companies, you will want to find the associations and organizations in that industry and start going to those events! Position yourself as the expert and problem solver for the people in that field.

Keep Doing It

Consistency is important here to keep your pipeline full, and your tribe building! Make a plan: how many events will you do in a month? What do you need to keep the calls coming in? I personally attend 1 event per week. I schedule a day to get on the road and network! I go to an event, schedule coffee dates, and visit clients if needed. This may be too much for you or you may need to do more, but start scheduling them a few weeks into the future, and don’t let an event pass you by.

My days on the road are usually a lot of fun! Who knew that I could go from avoiding these things to looking forward to them and have them produce results!

If you have been contemplating going and getting out there my only advice is: JUST DO IT.

Are you a member of a networking group? Want to plug it and share it here? Go for it! Which ones do you love? Let’s share the love!

Happy networking and have a beautiful weekend!

Brooke Simmons