Networking, whether face-to-face or online, is often a crucial part of growing a successful training business. It’s a great way to build relationships with potential mentors, clients and suppliers as well as to source ideas and inspiration. Many people find that referrals come from within their networks too.
But you’re not alone if you find face-to-face networking a bit daunting. What should you expect? What will people expect from you? Will it all be sales pitches and presentations?
This week’s blog is for anyone who would like to start networking or get more from the networking they already do. I’ve put together my favourite nine tips for better networking so that you can feel confident, happier and work the room like a pro the next time you walk into a new networking group:
Take some business cards
Try to have a healthy supply of business cards with you – find out in advance how many people typically attend the group so that you have enough cards to pass out. Yes, people can add your contact details to their mobile phones but a business card serves as a tangible reminder of your presence.
If someone gives you their business card, it’s worth taking a few moments to note on the back of the card where you’ve met the person and what you discussed. This will help you to follow up with them afterwards (see point 9).
Ditch the pitch
Don’t feel that you need to go into every conversation at a networking group with a hard-core sales pitch. People who constantly try to sell to other attendees can quickly alienate themselves from the group. Successful networking is more about starting a dialogue than making a presentation.
A better plan of action is to rehearse a short, informal ‘elevator pitch’ where you tell the story of your business in just one or two sentences.
For example, my elevator pitch might be, “Hi. I’m Sharon Gaskin. Through The Trainers Training Company and our Trainer Talk networking events, I help freelance trainers create successful and profitable training businesses.”
Your aim should be to sum up what you do and who your ideal clients are as concisely as possible.
Identify your ideal client
While I’m on the subject of ideal clients, it’s helpful to tell people you meet who your ideal clients are so that, if they already know or later meet someone who’s a perfect fit for your business, they’ll be able to identify them and make a referral.
If you’re feeling nervous about networking, it’s tempting to arrive late and sneak into the room once things are in full swing. However, I find it much easier to arrive a little early. When you’re one of the first people in the room, you can take a few deep breaths and observe the other networkers as they arrive. This gives you time to spot which attendees might be more open to conversation, especially if they have come alone.
How does the saying go? “A smile is the shortest distance between two people”. An open, friendly smile is often all it takes to let other people at networking events know that you’re approachable and happy to chat.
Before a networking event, it’s easy to worry about what you should say. In my experience though, the best networkers are those who are happy to listen as much as, if not more than, they talk.
Show your passion
It can help to overcome some big psychological hurdles by recognising that you won’t necessarily ‘click’ with everyone you meet at a networking event and that’s completely fine. You can’t be everything to everyone. I always find that, by acknowledging this, I’m able to be more authentic about my business and my passion for what I do. And it’s that passion that helps me to connect with like-minded people.
Some people go into networking events with a ‘What’s in it for me?’ attitude but I think that’s the wrong outlook. I prefer a more altruistic approach where you give advice or offer to make introductions without expecting to receive anything in return. This generates goodwill that pays dividends in the long-term.
The business cards you collect at a networking event will only have value to you if you make use of them by following-up with the people they belong to.
Try sending a quick email to your new contacts within 24 hours of meeting them, if possible, reminding them of the things you discussed and suggesting a follow-up conversation:
It was so nice to meet you at the Trainer Talk event yesterday. I hope you enjoy your holiday – I’m not at all jealous of all that sunshine!
We started talking yesterday about our shared audience – I’d love to continue that conversation when you’re back at work. Are you free to meet for coffee on Tuesday 20th June?
It’s also a good idea to connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn – remember to personalise your connection request by reminding them where you met.
Looking for a networking event designed exclusively for freelance trainers? I’d love to see you at the next Trainer Talk Live networking and learning event on 29th September 2017.