Let’s face it, if you’re in business then others are watching you, and judging you, and never more so than when you are a member of a networking group ...
On the whole, other members are watching you with the intention of seeing how they can help you, but first of all, they are trying to suss you out. They are checking that they are prepared to share with you their most prized assets ... their clients and contacts. And what's more, they are sharing their opinion of you with others.
It can be a bit daunting if you're new to running your business. When you were in employment to a certain degree you could hide behind the company brand or your authority within the organisation. Now, it's personal, you are the brand and how you behave is all you've got to influence and persuade people to buy from or refer to you.
When I was starting out, one of the best pieces of advice I got about building my reputation was to treat my fellow networkers as my best clients. If you think about it, that's exactly what they are. These are the people who are going to introduce you to the people you want to meet, but can't reach easily in any other way.
Here are 4 top tips from my own networking experiences, both my own mistakes as well as those made by others that will damage your reputation before you even get started:
- Be Humble and Listen
Be you, but on a quiet day. No one will mind if, as the new boy or girl on the block, that you're nervous and get things wrong because you're learning and they will love your energy and emotion about your business. What they will mind is bombast, a know it all attitude or hogging the meeting to just talk about yourself or whatever it is you are flogging. This applies to online introductions as well as networking.
For example, recently I was asked to connect on LinkedIn with a young man selling his services from the other side of the country. I'm always happy to meet new people, but he had also included an obviously generic message to me offering a free review of what he offered. Now, I already have enough people in my inner circle who I can turn to for advice on the subject, so I replied making that clear and offering to put him in touch with some people I know in his part of the country.
I got a reply, another generic message telling me what he could fix for me. No mention of what I had said at all. I replied, pointing this out. Guess what happened? I got yet another message offering to fix the problem he assumed I wanted to be fixed and again no acknowledgement of my message. Would you welcome an introduction to him?
Our manners have really been affected by virtual meetings. Or at least it has made visible some bad manners that we should be aware of. The one I notice that has increased is taking calls and punctuality in attending meetings.
Now, there are always times when taking a phone call during a meeting is unavoidable. Equally, you might have to leave early or arrive late. However, the clear message to the people in the room is that something or someone else is more important than they are. Do it all the time and they will wonder about your level of commitment to them.
So, before deciding to leave early or leave it to the last moment to turn up or worse still, just tune out and take that call, ask yourself if you would do that in a meeting with your best client? Are you really not able to arrange your calls outside the meeting time? If you're concerned about missing a sales call have you thought about an answering service?
What I'm going to say next really shouldn't need saying. For goodness sake, if you say you're going to do something then do it! I've lost count of the number of times people haven't contacted the person I've referred to them, the coffee shops where I've been stood up, the people who constantly change our agreed meeting because "this other meeting is really important and the other person can only make that time".
Hey, what about me? Doesn't my time count too? How about my friend you never phoned, how does that make me look in front of them? I know, let's leave it for now and you can come back to me when you're able to commit.
Your fellow networkers will want some idea of the level of service you will give their clients. That first referral is a leap of faith so many people will buy your services for themselves before they will refer you. Here's a pitfall that a surprisingly high number of people fall into!
Remember that your relationship is changing from fellow networker to client and supplier. It's easy in the informality of a networking relationship for there to be misunderstandings about what will and will not be included. So, go through your sales process as you would with any client. Be clear on their need and expectation of your service.
Be equally clear on what you will deliver and the limits. In your enthusiasm for the sale, don't over pitch for a huge project worth many thousands of pounds when they are expecting a low-cost audit. Use your formal contract and always agree your T&Cs before signing anything! After all, even if they are just testing out your service, they are testing your sales process too.
Your fellow networker is now your best client and you will never get a better opportunity to get that person talking about you in glowing terms. Now, that person is watching you, but most definitely liking what they see.
Enjoy your networking and, as with all my tips, be a bit forgiving when your fellow members are less than perfect.
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.