Our internal research within our network of over 200 coaches and consultants shows that in 2019, networking became the most effective method for gaining new clients, even overtaking referrals from current/past clients.
So, if you’re wondering why you should be networking, the short answer is … because it works! Frankly, it has always worked, but as businesses and entrepreneurs get better and better at it, it’s trumping all of the other methods of gaining new clients. And the best part is, if you approach it with the right attitude and process … it can be downright FUN!
If you’re not currently networking to build your coaching or consulting practice, you’re probably missing out. If you ARE currently networking and it’s not getting you the results you seek, you may find some actionable ideas in this blog series: The Secrets to Successful Networking.
Our first tip springboards from a quote from Henry David Thoreau. He said “In the long run, men (and women) only hit what they aim at.” You should be going into every networking experience, formal or informal, with a general idea of what you’d like to accomplish.
If it’s a formal networking event like a chamber mixer, your goal could be the number of cards you’d like to receive, the number of hands you’d like to shake, the number of “new” people you’d like to meet, or the number of one on one appointments you’d like to schedule after the meeting.
It’s relatively easy to set a goal when you’re in a formal networking situation. What type of goal can you set about informal networking?
You should be ready for networking opportunities wherever and whenever they might happen. We’ve heard many stories of consultants picking up a new client at a party or other social function. Whenever you’re out and about, you should be prepared to talk about who you are and what you do.
You can even stack the deck, so to speak, by attending an event that’s not specifically about networking, but you can use it like it is.
There are times coaches and consultants don their tuxedos or formal gowns to be able to put themselves in a new place where they know they’ll run into and be able to interact with new, and sometimes more powerful and influential people. Be aware, however, that YOU might be attending that award ceremony or charity event to network, but other people are there to celebrate the local dignitary receiving accolades or to support their favorite nonprofit. Be gentle in your networking efforts in these situations.
One of our favorite networking success stories involved a consultant who would purposely upgrade to Business Class on a cross-country flight at least once a year just to be able to network with those around him. He figured if they could afford to fly business class, they must either have a healthy travel budget or be in a C-level position in a company, both of which were targets of his. There’s nothing like a cross-country flight to help you get to know someone and lay the foundation for a long-term relationship. Again, proceed gently.
But you don’t have to spend a ton of money on hundred dollar a plate dinners or upgraded flights to do informal networking. Many times, you don’t have to look further than your own backyard. Whether you’re at a neighborhood party or picnic, at your house of worship, or in line at the grocery store … always be thinking about the networking opportunities those situations could offer.
Here are some other interesting networking options you may have overlooked. Have you ever attended an Economic Development Committee meeting in your hometown? Those meetings usually attract growing and expanding business owners and are chaired by local dignitaries who have a vested interest in attracting new business to your area. Again, this is not a true networking event, but you can shake some hands, and get to know some new friends.
When is the last time you visited your local Rotary? Now we can hear you groaning already. “Those meetings are full of old, retired business owners. They all go out to pasture at Rotary.” Well, guess what? Those old retired business owners spent many years trying to build your community into what it is today. They consider it their legacy and they’re proud of it. What better place to seek out a Center of Influence or referral partner? Make a friend here and you’ve aligned with someone who is pretty well connected.
What goal can you set in an informal networking situation? It’s as easy as this … make a friend. Don’t be salesy or pushy. Just be interested and curious and open. People love to talk about themselves. Give them one ear, and they’ll take BOTH! You’ve been making friends all of your life. Employ that same process when networking. Ask questions about them, don’t fill their head full of information about you. There’s plenty of time for that later.
For more time-tested and consultant-approved tips on networking, look for our next post. If you really don’t like to network, check out our previous post Do You Hate Networking? 3 Tips to Hate it Less