If you ask you’ll find out that most small business owners have an opinion on business networking. For every one that enjoys and values it – you’ll find another who visibly shudders at the mere mention of the word.

But why does business networking seem to polarise small business owners? Is it a massive untapped opportunity, or is it an uncomfortable evening or early morning in the company of strangers with cold coffee and or cocktail sausages?

The hard-sell approach.

The main problem with business networking is that it’s been hijacked by the hard-sell. If you’ve been at an organised networking event, you’re sure to have been collared by somebody employing the ‘double-glazing salesman’ approach. And no matter, how many times you say, “No” they just don’t stop. So you wait for your chance to make your dash for the exit, and away you go, scarred by the experience and vowing never to network again.

What makes it worse is that the people employing the hard-sell are completely oblivious to the lack of success they’re having. They measure their success solely in the number of leads they manage to garner (defined by the number of business cards they collect), and don’t stop to think about what networking really is.

If only people used networking to… well… network!

Turn your expectations on their head

At any given business networking event the chances of you finding your ideal customer within the room is remote. But the chances of you being able to help each other to find customers is far bigger.

So if you are expecting to come away from a networking event with a handful of ready-made sales and a long list of ‘leads’ you are going to be disappointed. You are far more likely to enjoy the experience and build long-term benefits for your business if you turn your expectations on their head.

So instead of thinking, ‘How many sales can I make?’ think, ‘How can I help  OTHER people with either leads or sales?

To do this you’ll need to ask lots of questions and get your head around other businesses. When you meet others you’ll soon find that the genuine interest you’re showing in their business will help them to relax and open up to you.

Your pre-prepared elevator pitch will be forgotten and you’ll have a real conversation about real issues. You might learn that they’re not happy with their accountant or are looking for a web designer to build their new website.

And this is your cue to ride to the rescue and show the true benefits of networking.

The real value of business networking

Give them the name of an accountant or web designer from your network who you both know and implicitly trust. The important part of this is ‘Trust’, it’s no good suggesting somebody who you vaguely know and have never used their services. To give a personal recommendation is the key, saying that your website was built by such and such and that you’re getting so many leads you’re struggling to handle all the business or that this accountant has saved you so much in tax you’re off to the Bahamas for your next vacation is very powerful.

And in an instant you’ve helped to connect two people – and all without a hint of ‘selling’. Suddenly, with this simple change of approach you’ve added another person to your network and made a real meaningful connection and also put a smile on two faces – actually three if you include your own.

Both of these contacts will feel indebted to you and will be far more likely to ‘return the favour’ in the future. If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s book influence you’ll realise that this is one of his weapons of influence, Reciprocation, this recognizes that people feel indebted to those who do something for them or give them a gift. For marketers, Cialdini says: “The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return.”

Make it easy for them to refer you.

As your list of contacts grows, you’ll find it easier to connect people within your network. Before too long you’ll find that you’re well-connected and have generated a huge amount of goodwill within your network. However to maximise the benefit from your network I suggest that you create a referral kit.

A referral kit is something that your potential referee can give to their contact to recommend you easily. For example I use my book (Implementation, the art of success.  Click Here to buy on Amazon). Letting people give away copies of my book is an easy way for them to recommend me. You may want to produce something for your contacts to give away about you and your company. A Web designer could have a referral kit all about how to produce websites that work or an IFA could have tips on how to maximise your income from your investments.  

This is an easy way for people to refer you without the added pressure of the ‘sales’ implication, and an added benefit for you is that the prospect will be all ready ‘pre-informed’ (see previous blog Click Here).

An army of ambassadors for you and your business

This approach will have enabled you to create an army of ambassadors, all primed and waiting to help you and your business. And this is the real benefit of networking.

So, the next time you are attending a networking event put the selling to one-side and try this approach.

If you’re interested in networking in the East Yorkshire Area drop me a line (click here to email me) and I’ll connect you into my network and networking events that I’m involved with.