It’s no secret: in order to succeed in business, it helps to network and build valuable relationships. Without doing that, you’re in for a long, difficult journey full of skepticism and lost opportunities.
But it’s not all as daunting as it seems to be at first glance. It’s likely you’ve been putting it off on your list, claiming you have other things to do first, other more pressing concerns. But networking is one of the biggest things on that list, if we’re being honest.
And it all revolves around helping each other. It’s not about being pushy, or showing up to events to essentially stalk people into being your friend. It’s about offering your assistance when the time is right, knowing full well that they’ll return the favor.
More than friendship, business relationships are about mutual growth. There’s something you excel at that they do not. And likewise, you may need something they have, but you don’t.
Let’s dive into how networking works, how it can help you, and how to go about it. With this guide, you’ll be ready to go out there and be the best social butterfly you can be!
So networking is the act of putting yourself out there, and offering help in areas that you see other entrepreneurs struggling in. This allows you to shine, because you’ve likely chosen to help with something that you’ve mastered. And simultaneously, it provides a value for the fellow entrepreneur, who is now probably very thankful, and willing to help you in return.
These types of relationships can be repeats, where you encounter each other several months later at an event, or convention, and once again decide to share tips or offer help. Or they could become partners, perhaps collaborating on a project that you market to both audiences―theirs and yours.
Even if they’re one-off, and you never see or hear from them again, you at least got to offer help and got a favor in return for your assistance. And your name got out there. You don’t know if your name will now come up in their conversations with other industry leaders.
In other words, networking may seem like a pain at times, but every little bit helps. It helps get your name out there, it helps to build your brand, and it offers something new and refreshing to your audience in the form of collaborations and new business practices based on tips you receive.
But it’s not as simple as going up to someone and saying “Hey, I noticed you don’t regularly post on your blog, I could change that around for you.” Before anything, it’s critical that you have goals and a plan. And you need to find the methods that aren’t pushy.
Network Goals & Planning
Here’s the thing: before doing anything in business, goals and planning are critical. And that goes for networking too. There is no conversion without an overall objective. The reason being that by taking the time to do this, you’re setting yourself up with a sharp focus on obtaining what you need for your business. It’s not about having a one-track mind, but rather, a purpose.
Along the way, things will happen that you can’t possibly plan for. Some of these things will be bumps in the road, but others will be surprisingly helpful. If you plan well, you’ll be able to stay focused, but still set aside some time for those unexpected, but welcome, surprises.
To plan well, ask yourself the following questions:
Think about your company’s long-term mission. What do you stand for as a business, what are you trying to do, and what does that ideally look like?
What series of steps do you need to take in order to make your overall goal come to fruition? Maybe you need X number of subscribers, or you need X number of social media followers.
Now that you know what steps to take, how many of those steps are things you’re not particularly good at? Whatever isn’t a strong suit could be something that fellow entrepreneurs help you with. And whatever they do to help, you can take notes, pay close attention, and learn from.
What do you excel at? How could you help others in a way that’s valuable to them, but still on brand for you? Having this sorted out is super important, as it will help you think fast on the spot whenever opportunity strikes.
Assuming you have employees, this could be something that they are a part of. Something that occurs while they’re working for you, so this overall mission is something you’re sharing with them. So, how can you make this mission exciting for your crew?
Now that you better understand the purpose of networking, how it works, and have even gotten some of the planning out of the way, it’s time to focus on actual networking techniques. These tips can make the journey much easier, either by giving you conversation ideas, or by introducing you to apps that save you time.
#1 The One-On-One
Think back to when you were in school, and wanted to talk to a friend in the hallway. You were likely talking about something that you shared in common, or something that happened over the weekend. The usual teen talk. And you were making eye contact, you were nodding to show your approval and understanding of the subject...
But then someone else you don’t even know decided to chime in, and then someone else followed right behind them. Soon, you’re surrounded by other people, all voicing their approval or disapproval of the original topic.
And you and your friend no longer have a moment to catch up.
Well, business is much the same way. It’s the whole reason why so many entrepreneurs skip out on conventions and events. They are unsure of how to handle networking as it is, but the idea of being bombarded by so many different view points simultaneously is just overwhelming. How are you supposed to interact and build a valuable business relationship with someone if everything around you is loud, and plenty of nosy, pusy people want to interject?
And that’s not even touching on the conflicting schedules, the looming deadlines, and the business calls to your team to make sure things are carrying on just fine while you’re away.
So, here’s the tip: spend less time at these mixers. These environments focus on meeting many different people, but they don’t celebrate the one-on-one, which is how you get to the meaningful stuff. You want some alone time to hash out project details, to talk shop, and figure out what you can do to help each other’s business. And you simply can’t do that effectively when there’s a million of other things going on.
Which means you should be researching people that are similar in style and approach as you. If you’re all about clean lines and Cali style, you should work with other brands who reflect that as well. Reach out to them, follow up a few days later to see if you can talk on the phone.
But don’t lead with “Please do me a favor.” Instead, focus on getting to know them. And remember, this takes time, but it’s worth it in the end.
#2 Prep Referral Bait
Before meeting with anyone, there are three things you should absolutely have figured out:
Your customer type
The common problem that your customer type has
How you’re going to help those customers
And a landing page that caters to these people specifically
Having these things figured out allows you to better interact with others, setting the stage for an easier, more effective conversation.
More so, it shows you take pride in what you do, which is important when asking for referrals. After all, remember, when people help you out with referrals, they aren’t just handing you some potential leads, they are also recommending you to someone they know and likely trust. They don’t want to tarnish their image by recommending someone who will make them look bad.
And much like everything else in life, practice makes perfect. The only way to really come off confident is to practice saying these things so much that it just becomes natural.
Consider this as an example:
“I am a wellness writer and I’m looking to connect with local people who are trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle. They often have conflicting information and tips from a variety of sources, both online and off, all telling them how to lose weight fast, but never how to keep it off. I can offer some much needed help, because I’ve been there and I’ve kept it off, without following fad diets or restricting myself on what I can or can’t eat. Do you know of any people I could help?”
Note how this passage states what you do, who you want to connect with, their common problem, and your unique solution to helping them. It covers all the important points, without rambling on. The more you ramble, the more it looks like you’re an ineffective communicator who would waste people’s time.
If you do manage to get some leads, remember to lead them to your suitable landing page. If you need help setting that up, try my in-depth guide on the subject.
#3 Use Some Apps
Sure, you could keep attending business mixers, or even conventions and other events in the hopes of making valuable connections, but…
This is the age of technology. We have the ability to sit back and watch whatever we want, whenever we want to, while a little robot cleans our floors.
So, why not use some apps to help with your networking? We use them to find dates these days, we use them to talk to friends millions of miles away, so why not use them for business as well?
For example ScanBizCards allows you to scan someone’s business card and incorporate it into your Android or iPhone. It picks up important information, then adds it as contact information into your phone.
Or consider Evernote, which has been around for ages, only getting better and better with every update. This apps helps record ideas, conversations with people, you name it. Its whole purpose is to organize information flawlessly, so literally anything you need to jot down can be done in Evernote. This makes brainstorming sessions a breeze.
#4 Email Yourself Notes Stat
This is perfect if a) email is basically your life, and b) you don’t use Evernote, and likely never will (although you really should).
But imagine going to an event, like maybe a TedTalk of some kind and you bump into a fellow entrepreneur who is eager to help you out with something. And you discover that you can help them in return with something they’ve been struggling with for a while too.
Only, there’s a slight problem: you spoke to ten other entrepreneurs that day, and you can’t remember who was who, and who said what.
This is where email, or Evernote, comes in. You immediately write a little about what happened. Nothing too detailed, but enough to remember the conversation, and know what to do about it.
Try covering some of the basics, like…
Their business name, and mission
Whatever their problem is that you could help them with
Whatever you said you would do to help
The issue you’re having that they said they’d help you with
#5 Add Networking to Your Routine
Maybe it’s once a week, or once every two weeks. Choose something that works for you, and that you know you can keep up, but do yourself a solid and add networking into your routine.
It doesn’t need to be in person, although it certain can be, and should be at least some of the time. Varying up your approach, and chosen outlet to do so is never a bad idea, as you never know who you’ll find, or what opportunities will come of it.
If it seems like too much to take on, remember that at one point, all of social media was all about… well, networking. Before the influencers, before the memes, and certainly before the advertisements came into the picture, people used Facebook to either connect with old high school friends, or to talk business.
And you likely check your social media accounts everyday anyway. You could easily pop into a fellow entrepreneur’s profile and leave them a comment, or message them on LinkedIn.
Ultimately, the method of networking isn’t what’s important here, it’s the act of meeting new people. You should always be working toward this goal, consistently.
Some people to look out for are…
People who want to be in your business a few years from now.
People who share the same style as your brand.
Those who seem to be struggling with something that you excel at.
People outside of your area of expertise, A.K.A. not in your industry, because you never know what you might learn along the way. Maybe you can adopt a new practice and revolutionize your own field.
Those doing well in something that you have been struggling to master.
#6 Don’t Settle For Just New Customers
When you meet new people, our natural business instinct is to make a sale. Even if the person we’ve encountered doesn’t fit that mold, we want to know if they know of anyone else who would be interested in buying.
And although we all have to respect the hustle, we also need to know when to recognize a potential partnership.
Think about partnerships where you co-produce products or pieces that you can both share with each respective audience. Sharing on two websites, two social media accounts, and also sharing the marketing costs of promoting your brand new, co-produced product? It’s cheaper for both of you, and exposes your brand to double the people, if not more.
But it doesn’t stop there. You could co-produce webinars, or podcasts.
If all of that sounds nice, but not up your alley because you rather do things solo, that’s fine too. But you could at the very least agree to refer customers to each other whenever it makes sense. For instance, maybe you offer writing services, but you know a fellow entrepreneur who is an excellent graphic designer. Top notch, does everything you simply cannot do. Whenever your customers ask you if they could get some graphics to go with your blog post, and you don’t think you could offer the quality that your newfound friend can, you could refer them.
And likewise, whenever your business partner’s customers ask for copy, you could find yourself with some amazing referrals.
In other words, even if it feels like you are investing a lot of time into making partnerships, rather than customers, you’re still working toward something very important for business growth. And you never know, through those partnerships, you may just find more customers anyway.
#7 Relationship Building In 2 Steps
Step one: you look for influencers in your industry that you want to connect with. These are influencers that you know have a good reputation, that typically work with companies like yours, and who have large enough followings that can make a difference.
Look at their products and services, and then purchase at least one thing you could benefit from. Consider enrolling in one of their programs too, for research.
This not only lets you know what they’re all about, really, and what quality to expect, but it also allows you to gain their trust. Suddenly, you’re not just some random person, you’re a customer, and that’s valuable for any business owner.
Step two: thank them by sharing value with them in return. That means sharing their products with your audience, promoting them, mentioning them on your social media channels, etc. If you have something like a podcast, or you simply write out interviews with industry leaders, consider interviewing them.
It may seem strange, to give rather than ask for favors, but when we give someone attention, we build long-lasting relationships. When they see what you do for them, and their business, they will likely remember you, recommend you, or even ask to collaborate in some way.
#8 Focus On Small Encounters
For all of you introverts out there, networking can seem really daunting. It’s the last thing you want to go out and do, right? So you either don’t do it, or you do but only from the comfort of your computer.
And again, as we covered before, ultimately it doesn’t matter what approach you use, as long as you meet new people on a regular basis. Work it into your schedule.
But that being said, meeting people in person is unmatched by any app, any email, any contact form, you name it. Sure, technology makes it all convenient, and even helpful, but unlike a numbers game, networking is about quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter if you meet 30 people every month if all of those conversations go poorly.
So, instead, consider focusing on the small encounters, meaning less is more. Instead of 30 people, aim for 12 in a month, and make them count. Each one should feel like they matter to you, and they really should, genuinely. Otherwise, why speak to them? A lot of effort goes into network planning, and conversations. These are people you could potentially conduct business with, so yes, they need to matter to you.
Don’t speak to those you don’t actually want to speak to, otherwise every conversation seems forced and awkward.
Try some of these tips:
Make eye contact, because people feel heard and catered to when you’re giving them your undivided attention during a conversation.
Smile, because it shows that you’re friendly and approachable.
Engage in the discussion in a meaningful way, rather than focusing on light-hearted small talk. Everyone hates small talk, and it tends to be super awkward anyway. You want to be remembered, so make sure that when they say “I’ve been trying to brush up on my writing skills lately, it’s just I’m not much for copy,” you say something like “I’ve spent a long time working on my copy, and one of the things I found that helps is X because it really teaches you how to communicate ideas across clearly, in an organized way. And that’s the basis of all writing, right?”
End the discussion in a nice way, not like you’re making a mad dash to the nearest exit. That’s probably the last time that person will ever see you, or at least in a while, so it needs to leave them with a good impression of you. Only then will they be willing to stay in touch with you over email, by phone, or even Skype sessions. Things like smiles, eye contact, hand shakes and polite words go a long way.
#9 Start A Podcast
The thing about podcasts is that they don’t really go out of style, kind of like how video never will either. They linger year after year because they’re so convenient. You can listen to them in the car, at home, or while doing mundane things like grocery shopping. They’re conveniently on your phone, on your tablet, and easily synced up to home speakers so you can clean the house while listening.
And on a business scale, they’re a valuable tool. If you run your very own podcast, you can interview industry leaders, which means rather than have to rely on social media, events, conventions and mixers to meet people, you can use your podcast as a catalyst. Although you’ll still need to reach out to them in the first place, to even bring up the podcast, having one helps to give you something to talk about initially. Think of it as a crutch.
Most people won’t say no to being on a podcast either. They can look however they want, because it’s just audio. And they can show up to talk about their business endeavors, goals, plans, and missions. It’s a great way for them to promote themselves, and a great way for you to get to know them better. By the end of the interview, it may be easier to offer some help, or bring up a potential partnership.
It’s kind of how the media uses interviews as a catalyst to potentially network and create a more stable line of news details for the future. Once they interview someone, and it goes well, they may stay in touch and ask for details on stories directly when the time is right.
#10 Attend Non-Industry Events
Your first instinct may be to ask why, and how that is even helpful, but attending non-industry events is like a seemingly noncompetitive way to meet new people.
Think about it this way: at a typical mixer, convention, event of your choice it’s all industry leaders and wannabe leaders. It’s people in your field. That means that whoever you speak to and make a valuable connection with, is also doing the same thing. That person you spoke to 20 minutes ago is now speaking to someone else in the field and having a similar conversation to the one you had just moments before.
And soon, it all becomes a blur. Just because you use tools like Evernote, or choose to email yourself conversation details, it doesn’t mean everyone else does. The likelihood of them remembering your face versus the thousand they saw on that day alone is slim to none.
But at a non-industry event, you’re likely one of the few, if not the only person, there who had something different to say and offer. You stand out by simply not being the norm at an event like that. Your chances of being remembered skyrocket automatically.
And because you’re not competing with other people in your field, you can relax and offer insight to those willing to hear it. You can shine in your own right, while simultaneously helping people see things in a different light, which is ultimately really refreshing, especially during times when most are scrambling around trying to make use of their limited time there.
And what do you get out of it exactly? Well, just because you’re not in the same line of work, it doesn’t mean you can work together in some way.
Photographers work with copywriters to provide original photos for articles, blog posts, books, courses, and more. It beats relying on stock images, especially if you have demanding clients.
Meanwhile, game developers will often work with marketing consultants to establish their brand image and create promotional materials for the public, including limited edition items, game trailers, and websites.
To put it simply, attending a non-industry event is your golden ticket to standing out, easily making partnerships happen, and ensure you’re remembered in a sea of the norm.
#11 Strategically Volunteer
This is not for everyone. And as the title suggests, it’s all about being strategic. So, it may seem odd at first, but if you find an organization that aligns with your business goals, it can help you grow your business.
Of course, volunteering is a good cause, and your objective here should be to help and make a difference for that cause. That’s the first goal. But because you’re a brand, any time you choose to help, you’re also promoting your brand. It’s inevitable.
So, instead, embrace it. But you have to be genuine in your help efforts.
For instance, maybe you write local entertainment guides for people who are disabled, highlighting the places with ramps, ample space to move around in, good lighting, etc. This could allow you to volunteer with organizations, or rehabilitation centers, whose sole purpose is to help integrate handicapped people back into normal living. You may even be able to host a special event for them at one of the places highlighted in your guides.
Meeting new people and finding common ground is at the core of every meaningful relationship known to man. It’s the start of long-lasting friendships, of life-long loves, and of course, turning-point moments in every business.
To capitalize on these moments, you need to ensure that you’re ready, with goals and plans in place. You should know where you’re going and how to get there, first and foremost.
But also, you shouldn’t forget the tactics you can implement to make those encounters run smoothly. Even tidbits of advice can make massive differences in outcomes.
However, if you still feel you lack the time, listen to that voice that says you’ve had enough, and you’re stretched thin. That is what consultants, freelancers, and other professionals are for: to help other entrepreneurs meet their goals without losing their sanity.
So, which of these tips do you think you’ll be implementing in your networking approach?
Let me know in the comments below, I love hearing from all of you!