So this morning I find myself preparing to do a talk on building effective business relations, i.e. networking. I’ve not always been comfortable networking and to anyone that knows me the fact that I am about to do a talk on effective networking is very ironic. I used to actively avoid networking events, I hated them. The sheer thought of walking into a room full of people I didn’t know gave rise to the shy socially awkward teenager that I thought I once was.
Networking for me was all about selling and so, I was terrible at it. If I did have to go to an event, I’d arrive late and leave early having barely spoken to anyone and the whole process felt painful.
Today, I don’t even think about it. And I oddly enjoy it. I’ve gone from avoiding networking opportunities to seeking them out. I go to events excited about who I may meet and what I may learn and whilst I am always developing this skill, I think I pass as pretty good at it. So I thought I’d share my reflections, just in case there’s someone like my old self out there who could benefit from my story.
So what changed?
For me, my approach to networking began to change when I started thinking about it in terms of giving and receiving. I began to offer help to others first. Even just giving someone something of very little financial value, such as an article or lending them a book, usually resulted in a return favour
2. Charge up the bank
I would think of networking as my emotional piggy bank. When I do deeds for others, I put something in. When others do deeds for me, I take something out. One, of the many, things keeping me away from networking was the feeling that I was asking for help, and I felt I had no right to. So focusing on what I gave enabled me to feel better and more comfortable, when I asked for something.
3. Don’t expect an immediate return
I had to change my expectations. I’d go to a networking event and get disheartened if my efforts didn’t pay off. If nobody returned my e-mails or didn’t want what I had to offer this would reinforce the fact that I need not bother going as I was no good. By not expecting an immediate return, it took the pressure off and enabled me to believe that leads may or may not come in the future.
4. Build your network before you need it
I also realised I had to build up my network before I needed it. The more desperate I was for clients, the more pressure there was to bring back leads from a networking event. I probably also came across as more needy.
When I started networking when business was good the pressure to sell just wasn’t there and I started to enjoy the conversations I had more.
So these 4 concepts helped me feel a bit better about networking it was starting to feel less seedy and less needy. The biggest change for me came when I just let go of the need to sell. I just accepted that if people wanted my goods or services, if they liked me they’d probably buy from me. Most of my work comes from recommendations and almost all of our clients give us repeat work, year after year. Once I let go I realised that networking was really about building relationships.
5. Let go and build relationships
Networking, surprise surprise, was about connecting with people on a human level. Finding out about who they are, what they enjoy. I also realised that the majority of people at networking events weren’t really there to buy anyway, they were also there to sell. You’d end up with loads of people all in a room trying to build their business. It’s the people that you meet, and the connections that you make that count. You’re more likely to get meaningful leads through people who know people. So building your inner circle on a human level, enables you to exponentially reach more potential clients.
So how did I do this? What happened for me to turn from hating networking into enjoying it? I basically gave my head a wobble and changed what networking meant to me.
The meaning of any event depends on the frame you put around it. Imagine it’s a recession and businesses are closing down. This can be bad news for business owners and employees. But, change the frame and imagine that your business is in liquidating closing businesses and recession is a good thing for you. For me, I changed the frame from selling to building relationships and changing the frame began to lead to changed behaviour.
For me, thinking about networking as building relationships enabled me to tap into skills that I knew I had. I felt more relaxed, the pressure wasn’t there and I began to make meaningful connections with people.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Changing my Beliefs
My frame about networking being selling gave rise to all sorts of unhelpful beliefs “I can’t sell”, “No-one will buy off me” “Selling is rude” – it’s a wonder I ever went into business! These beliefs held me back, stopped me from going to networking events and literally made me dread meeting potential customers. I also had to change my beliefs to get my change in behaviour.
Here’s what we know about beliefs:
Beliefs can be empowering or limiting
We act as if our beliefs are true – rules of behaviour
Empowering beliefs motivate us
Limiting beliefs weaken self esteem
Limiting Beliefs hold us back from pursuing our goals and living freely and fully to our potential
Overcoming limiting beliefs is a fundamental step to success
Beliefs affect our emotions
You can change your beliefs
Beliefs are like muscles – stronger with regular exercise
Ultimately you get what you focus on, so focus on what you want.
Lastly I learnt that goals were equally important in networking as they were in other aspects of life.
First, if you can’t come up with at least 2 or 3 specific, obtainable objectives, then attending a networking event is probably not worth your time.
Second, goals helps you to focus your time (and choices) while you are at the event.
Finally, when the networking event is over, you can measure your level of success which can then help you decide if you should do it (or something like it ) again.
So what do networking goals look like?
Make new contacts Feels like a chore & lots of pressure
Get new ideas Exciting
Speak to three new people Possible
Give business card to two people Can be achieved quite quickly.
Connect with one new person per week on Linked In No stigma
I came across this quote whilst browsing images and it really sums up my approach to networking now:
“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark”
Good luck to all of you and your networking efforts :-)