I’ve never thought of myself as the “networking type”. I’m really more of the “shy-extroverted” type, if there is such a thing? I find it easy to talk to people I know, but am daunted by the idea of talking to strangers.
Just over a year ago, I took a leap of faith and opened my own legal practice. In the first month of operating a service-based business, I quickly discovered that you need clients to PAY YOU if you want to actually make any money. To a large extent, lawyers rely on word-of-mouth referrals from their network to introduce clients. Before opening my legal practice, I had been on maternity leave and working in “no-legal” roles, so my network was not current. I had never practised under my own “name” either, so, I had to learn to network for my business to survive, and quickly.
I’m by no means a networking expert, but here are 10 things I know about Business Networking. Perhaps they might help you.
1. You need to give off “sparks”
If an opportunity to network for business presents itself, I’ve discovered that I’m more likely to have a successful outcome if I’m giving off “sparks”.
For years I tried to squeeze into the mould of what I thought a “lawyer” should be. I tried to dress the part and network like every other lawyer out there. I wasn’t very successful at networking.
Nowadays, I’m giving off way more “sparks”. People are surprised when I tell them what I do because I’m usually wearing jeans and I never wear a suit. I’ve invested in broadening my social network (and consequently, my professional network). I’ve taken up hobbies that make me an interesting person to talk to, such as blogging and horse riding. I’ve also been learning about websites, social media and starting a business.
I’ve found that because I don’t look and act like a “traditional lawyer,” people are more inclined to want to know about me, my business and how it might feel to work with me. And because I’m being a more authentic and “sparky” person, I’m attracting the kind of people I want to work with.
2. Always offer before you ask for something
I find it difficult to ask for referrals, so I’ve found networking for business much easier if I give before I ask.
I’m a natural connector and a gatherer of information, and I also have a great memory for seemingly random trivia. I put all of these skills to use when I meet someone I want to network with. It’s sort of like courting someone, but not in a romantic-creepy sense.
I’ve found that if you lead with the intention of “how can I help this person” or “who do I know that could help this person,” the conversation flows more naturally and people are more inclined to want to help you in return.
3. Use your existing network
One of the first things I did to build a business network was to write a list of everybody I knew in our extended family and circle of friends, what they did and the type of clients they could possibly send my way.
I then chose five people on that list who had businesses or jobs that most complemented mine, and I contacted them to say hi, and to let them know about my new business. I found that because I already knew these people, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all to approach them and practise my “pitch”.
More often than not, those people I initially approached all had a least one other person who they thought might benefit from knowing about my business. Things really did just grow from there.
4. Get outside your comfort zone
I’ve had a lot of success networking outside of the traditional networking “hunting grounds” (weddings, conferences, barbecues).
For example, in February last year, I joined a blogging course and through this I made new friends. Some of these friends have become clients or have referred their friends to me. I also met my new business partner in Bloom Business Society, Lisa Scott, in this group.
The people that you need to be networking with are out there, but perhaps they just aren’t where you have always been hanging out.
5. Look for mutual relationships
I always love to build networking relationships that are beneficial for both parties. So, I try to always be on the lookout for people who have synergy with my business.
As I’m a lawyer, I’ve formed networking relationships with mortgage brokers, accountants, financial planners and friends.
What do friends get out of it, you may ask? People like to be able to refer their friends to a “trusted” and reliable person. It makes us feel “good” to be able to help someone out. And we’ve all been stung by referring a friend to someone who subsequently never returned their call. The feeling is horrible. So, if you do what you say you will do and are an honest and reliable person, people will recommend you to their friends and colleagues.
Who are the people that would benefit from knowing about your services?
6. Perfect your pitch
People are curious by nature. From the cab driver on the way to the airport to the parents at school pick-up time, we all want to know what other people get up to. How common is the question “What do you do?”
So, work on your answer to this question. Write it down. Practise it. It doesn’t have to be long and “sales-y”, you just need to be familiar enough with the main points so that you don’t freeze if you meet someone who could be important to your business or career.
Trust me, people are NOT excited to meet me if they ask what I do and all I say is “I’m a lawyer”. I tell you, there are often crickets “chirp…chirp” afterwards. By comparison, if I say “I’m a small business owner and the mother of two children. I help people realise their dreams of owning a home, getting their legal affairs in order and growing a small business,” people are naturally more interested in me.
7. Form your own networking group
After having a colleague urge me to do this for a year, I recently got off my butt and formed an invitation-only networking group for female entrepreneurs in my local area. It’s only in the early stages, but already the response is positive.
You may not believe it, but business networking can overwhelm even the most extroverted people. Just because a person is extroverted or a successful business owner, it doesn’t mean they are an organised person or a “connector” type.
So, if you are lucky enough to be an organiser or a “connector” type, why not organise your own networking catch-up? If you are shy, an easy way to do this is to set up a private Facebook group and invite people to it. Then, you set up an event in Facebook to meet at a cafe and issue the invitations.
Your friends and colleagues really will thank you for being the organiser of a networking group and you will start to build a reputation as a connector, that is somebody to network WITH.
8. Cold call
Did I scare you when I said that? I thought so. But hear me out.
In these modern times, we are lucky enough to be able to contact people we haven’t met before in that lovely, direct, but not-too-personal format called “email”. Email is PERFECT for cold calling, but you have to get it right, or it feels spammy.
I’ve had some success in emailing colleagues of mine who practise in areas that I don’t, and introducing my business. Often, they are looking for someone with my offerings to refer their own clients to. Good for them, and great for me.
Another example is that if I see the work of someone else in a different industry that I liked, I might send a short email saying “I really like what you did with XYZ, I introduce myself and my business and issue an open-ended invitation for a coffee sometime”. If they don’t accept, no harm is done.
9. Invest in your marketing tools
In a loud and busy world, sometimes it only takes a simple, beautiful thing to get you noticed.
I invested in beautiful design for my logo and business cards and I have never regretted it. Professional women often compliment the design of my business cards, which is great. They are my target market, so my designer obviously filled the brief.
A good website is also important these days for business networking. As I’m a sticky beak, as soon as I can, I like to see how a person is represented online. There is no excuse for an ugly website when a beautiful website can be purchased for less than $100. If you can’t afford to buy a website, just pick one of the free designs that are simple with lots of white space.
10. Be the one to follow up
We all lead busy lives, so be forgiving if you meet somebody who said they would contact you and they never did. Perhaps they lost your card, perhaps their cat got sick. Life gets in the way sometimes.
So, unless you took the initiative to contact them and they ignored you (which is rude), you shouldn’t judge them. Instead, if that person really could help your business or career, put your shyness in the corner and be the person to make first contact.
I truly believe we could all find just five minutes a week to dedicate to sending out two emails to people who could help our business. Have a look through the cards that you collected at your most recent networking event. How many of them have you actually done something with? Be honest now…
I’ll even help you out by writing the script you can use. Feel free to send this now. As I’ve completed most of it for you, it won’t take you long. Ready to cut and paste…
Hi so and so,
It was so great to meet you at (blah blah event). I really enjoyed hearing all about (them, their thing — make it about them).
I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch sooner, but life has been busy with running my small business, (sick kids, trekking in the Himalayas, learning cheese making).
I’d really like to hear more about (them, their thing) and how (my thing) could possibly help your (clients/customers/mother).
If you are interested in meeting for a coffee some time, that would be great. I’m usually around on (Mondays, Thursdays, Wednesday morning, never because I am totally cool and too popular for you) for a catch-up.
I hope things are going well in your business!
Carolyn Ryder is a Queensland-based solicitor and the co-editor of Bloom Business Society, a website resource for solo businesswomen. She works from home while juggling the demands of a young family and squeezing in her passion for horse riding. Her weaknesses are e-courses, Italian food, online shopping and sauvignon blanc. She holds a Masters Degree in Law and bakes a mean chocolate cake.