Building relationships should be at the center of every business, people do business with people!
There is one big marketing strategy that sometimes gets a little bit of a bad reputation – networking. Even experienced solo entrepreneurs and business owners can get anxious about talking to strangers about their products or services. We worry about what to say and how to start conversations. I want to change how you think about networking.
In this blog, I am going to explain why networking is so important and give you seven key tips to help you build an effective network that can drive your business growth.
This blog article is a summary of the related podcast episode.
I am also offering you my free 3C™ system workbook to help you make revenue and an impact with your portable business. It provides more information on some of the topics I mention in this blog and has practice exercises and templates to help you choose the right marketing strategies to grow your business successfully.
Who is your ideal customer?
Networking is really key to every business owner and when you build your network, you obviously want to be meaningful and authentic in your efforts. You also need to be strategic by focusing on your ideal client avatar or your ICA. If you have read any of my other blogs or listened to any of my podcast episodes, you will know that I always insist on the importance of being truly clear about who your ideal client is and focused on a very small niche. Every single marketing strategy you choose needs to be centered around this ideal customer’s identity and to do that, you need to know who your ICA is. So, if you have not worked out who your ICA is, you need to sit down and do that right now! You want to have one single ideal customer profile that you focus on – you can even give them a name! Every time you need to make strategic decisions for your business, you need to refer to this ideal customer – this is truly critical for you to be successful in your marketing strategies.
What is networking?
Networking is the natural way humans connect to each other and that’s why this should be your first marketing strategy, regardless of who your ICA is or where they are. You should always be looking for ways to build relationships with them, which is how I want you to think about networking.
The other definition of networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal setting.
Networking often begins with this common ground. I want you to remember this definition of networking because it gives you all the secret ingredients you need to build strong relationships. And one of them is about finding common ground.
So where do you find people to network with?
- Start with your existing network and find out who knows who: you use your existing connections – you have friends, former colleagues, current colleagues. If you’re not in touch with them now, get back in touch with them. It is never too late to rebuild that connection. Then look at who they know and maybe they might know your ideal client (ICA). So never hesitate to ask your existing network if they know the type of people that you want to connect with.
- Events, conferences, trade fairs: use what you found through your market research.
- Professional associations and organizations, clubs and so on
- Social media – LinkedIn and Facebook and even groups on those platforms can be good places to find people with whom you want to network and build relationships.
Then you need to choose which places to focus on.
- Choose the relevant places where your ICA is: you should know this from your market research
- Choose the relevant places where your peers are: you want to build relationships with your peers because they are a valuable source of information and knowledge about your market
- Choose the relevant places where your potential partners are: partnership is a great way to grow your business!
When you do reach out to these places, you need to become part of the community and authentically try to be part of the tribe – this is key to building connections between you and the rest of the community and the stronger those connections are, the stronger your network will be. So pick the most relevant platforms for your business and your ideal client and show up consistently to build those relationships. You need to show your face, have conversations and share that common ground on a regular basis.
But what happens if you cannot find a community or platform, offline or online? You create it!
If you feel or see there is something missing in the market to bring people in your specific niche together, then be the person to bring them together. I have done this!
When I started Tandem Nomads, it was focused on expat partners and even though New York has so much to offer, it was difficult to find a platform to meet other expats partners because most of them stick to the organization where their partner works or to organizations related to their home country. But I wanted a platform where partners from different backgrounds could meet, not just from my husband’s employer or from one nationality and I couldn’t find it. So, I decided to organize a conference to bring all these people together. And so many clients came out of that conference and that helped me build the foundations of Tandem Nomads when I was just starting out. But that conference did not lead to overnight success. I did get clients but it was years of building relationships with them after that conference. So do not think about creating a community as an overnight success. You have to invest in this for the long term but remember that it doesn’t take much to get a new community started. Be creative! Rent a room in a restaurant or space in a library, just bringing people together in a coffee shop could be enough to get started.
Now that I have given you some important essentials about networking, here are my seven tips to network effectively.
1. Prepare before you meet or connect
- Find out who is going to be there – most conferences and events have participant lists or social media groups – and connect before you attend, for example using LinkedIn. You can then arrange to meet at the event and you have already broken the ice before you even meet in person.
- Find out about your common ground and think about how you can be of service to them – think about potential conversations you would like to have, have ideas on how you can help them and also how to initiate an interesting exchange.
- Show up a few minutes early: this helps you connect with the hosts and allows you to get comfortable in the setting. It also allows you to meet people as soon as they arrive so you have time to network before the event begins.
- Connect with the host: this can really take you a long way. Whenever you make a connection with the host of the event, make sure to build that relationship so that they know you, that they know what you do and maybe they will invite you to speak at a future event or introduce you to other people.
2. Be interested, not interesting
- Choose quality over quantity: don’t focus on connecting with everyone at an event. Obviously, the more people you know the better it is but you need to reach out authentically and try to get to know people for real so focus on getting to know a few people well.
- Don’t get stuck with one person or only people that you already know: try to keep extending your circle of contacts, greet the newcomers and bring others into your conversations so that you are the one who is the networker and the person who puts people together.
- Make people share their story, ask questions, listen and be genuinely interested: focus on remembering their stories or if you find something relevant, you can help them or share it with them.
- Remember what people say to you, find out how you can help and make notes to follow up: this is something you can just do mentally but sometimes I have a notebook that I take to events to help me remember who said what. Sometimes I just add a few notes to someone’s business card to help me remember.
- Connect people to each other: this is an amazing way to expand your own network while also helping others!
I know that many of these tips seem to focus on in-person events. At the time of writing, many of us are still restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but these tips all work for virtual events too. Don’t let the fact that you cannot meet people face to face stop you from building your network.
3. Follow up systematically
- Don’t just collect business cards: make sure you follow up with people after you meet them. It is so common to take a business card and then do nothing with it. So make sure every single time you meet someone for the first time that you follow up with them and tell them that simply, for example, it was nice to meet them. Perhaps you can add something of value for them like sharing a book they might want to read, sharing an article or connecting them to someone else that can help them.
- Send a LinkedIn invitation with a personal note: just take one sentence to personalize your invitation and share something relevant. This is true for other social media platforms too but professionally, LinkedIn is a great place to connect.
- Check and follow their work and their content on social media: the way you choose your social media platforms is by defining where your ideal client avatar (ICA) is spending their time. If you meet people who are active on these platforms, be sure to support them. Show up on their feed, commenting and liking. The more you do this, the more they will really pay attention to what you are doing and be interested in you as well.
- Send an email with a quick reference to what they said or what you promised to share: this is a way for you to follow up with people when you meet them.
- Follow up in a different channel: if someone doesn’t respond, reach out in another way. Sometimes they are just not paying attention to the load of emails or messages that they get. So email may work better than social media and vice versa for some people.
To help with following up with your contacts, I want to recommend a great tool called Hubspot. Hubspot is a customer relationship management tool that helps you keep track of your contacts, your communication with them as well as add notes and reminders to follow up. I highly recommend it.
4. Give true value without expectations
- Find out what would be really helpful to them and what problems you can solve for them: when you meet people for the first time, you should always have this in mind.
- Send a valuable free resource that you have that can give them a quick win: the more resources you have, even if it is not your own, that can help your network, the more valuable you will become to them so make sure to figure out whenever you meet somebody what free content you have that you can share with them to give value.
- Connect them with other people they would be interested in connecting with: this is a great way to support people – help people who might be able to do business together to get to know each other.
- Given them referrals and engage with their content: if you want referrals, you need to give referrals and support people.
To help you understand how giving value can help you grow your network and your business, I recommend reading The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and David Mann. I had the honor to interview Bob Burg on the Tandem Nomads podcast so check out our conversation to learn more about his belief that your true worth is determined by how much you give in value rather than by how much you take in payment. Bob explains in this episode how you can give instead of expecting things in return and how that can actually drive your business growth.
5. Schedule the time to reconnect and nurture
- Make it part of your weekly routine: no matter what kind of business you have, this should be something you think about how to connect with people every single day proactively and mindfully.
- Set a reminder to reconnect or follow up: you can use tools like Hubspot to make it easier to schedule this time into your routine. Hubspot can also help you set up important dates like birthdays so that you get an automatic reminder to send someone birthday wishes. Think about other significant occasions as well when you might want to follow up – maybe it’s a parent who is having surgery and follow up genuinely and intentionally.
- Send spontaneous intentions to show that you genuinely care: when you think of someone, just send them a quick message to say that you were thinking of them, that you want to check-in and see how they are doing.
- Use snail mail, voicemail or other creative ways to be remembered: be creative about how you connect with people, change how you reach out and use different formats.
Ultimately, networking is about being in it for the long run. You don’t build these relationships expecting something in return right away which by the way will ruin the relationship for you. You need to make networking part of who you are rather than part of doing business and genuinely be interested in building relationships for the long term.
My last two tips are a bit more focused on how you can actually start benefiting and generating business from the work you are doing in building authentic relationships.
6. Be OK with asking for help and making an offer
If you are following the first five tips and genuinely building relationships, you should feel OK about asking for help because you have been helping others.
- People want to help and be valuable to others: it is OK to ask for help and know that people will want to help you! Remember this is you are shying away from asking for help.
- Be clear about what you are asking for: you need to be specific about what you need. This also makes it easy for them to be able to say yes or no to helping you.
- Make it easy to help you by providing the information or guidance: for example, if you would like someone to make an introduction for you, give them all the information they need, right down to the text for the pitch so that they don’t have to think about it at all. It should not be difficult for them to figure out how to help you.
- Show gratitude and make a gesture to thank them: this goes such a long way! For example, when I interviewed Bob Burg about The Go-Giver, he immediately sent me a note to thank me for interviewing him. He is one of the famous authors in the United States when it comes to writing about relationships and referrals and he led by example! He is probably the first person to send me a thank you for interviewing them. I can tell you that his gesture and the fact that he really practices what he preaches made me want to spread the word about his book even more. So, think about what you can do to show gratitude in a way that makes others feel valued.
7. Explain what you do effectively
- Be clear about what problem you solve
For you to be able to network successfully, you need to be able to explain what you do effectively. If you are not clear about who you are and what you can do for people, it becomes very difficult for people to remember you and then refer to you or reach out to you. You need to be very, very clear about the problem you solve with your business. You also need to be able to word it in a way that your ideal client can really identify with it.
For help with doing this, check out my free 3C™ system workbook. There is a section called ‘The Problem You Solve’. In this section, you will find an exercise that will help you reflect on the problem you solve.
- Be clear about how you describe the transformation you provide
Once you have done that, you can start working on your pitch. In your pitch, you are trying to communicate in a few words what you do and what transformation you provide to your clients.
Here is the template you can use to practice your pitch:
I work with — (describe your ICA) who struggle with — (problems your ICA faces) and who want — (what result your ICA wants to see happen).
I — (how do you help get that result).
Here is an example for a nutritionist:
“I work with busy solopreneurs who struggle with finding time to cook and who want to maintain good health. I create personalized, healthy and delicious meals that save them time and give them the energy they need.”
You can see how in just a few sentences it is possible to summarize effectively who you will help, what problem they have, what solution they are looking for and how you will provide the result they want. This may seem very long but the exercise in the workbook will make it easier for you to follow, starting with summarizing your solution in just a few words to distil it down to the essentials and get it down to just one sentence.
Maybe you already have that key sentence. If you do, then go for it, as long as you clear about how your ideal client is and what problem you help them solve. Also, don’t hesitate to be creative and generate curiosity.
For example, a paramedic in a ski resort might say ‘I jump from helicopters to save lives’. You can see how a short sentence like that would start a lot of interesting conversations.
But if you had to choose creativity versus simplicity and clarity, then choose simplicity and clarity.
- Make it engaging and conversational
If you do have a spark of a creative idea, make sure that you test it and see how people react. And don’t forget to turn explaining what you do into a conversation with someone, make it engaging and help people relate to you so that they remember you and can recommend you to others or when they need your services.
Here are some prompts you can use to introduce what you do into a conversation:
Are you familiar with… ? Well…
What do you think is the biggest challenge of…? This is what…
You mentioned earlier how… This is something that is common to…
You seem to know a thing or two about… That is also something I love…
And here is an example based on the nutritionist I mentioned earlier:
“Do you know what is the biggest challenge of solopreneurs nowadays?
Well… guess what, it has nothing to do with business! It is their food habits. Most of them (share official stats when you can!) struggle with finding time to cook healthy meals and end up eating a lot of processed food.
I create for them personalized healthy and delicious meal plans that save them time and give them the energy they need to perform in their business.”
So that’s my top seven tips for successful networking! Make sure to check back on these regularly to remind yourself of all these little ways that you can use networking to grow your business. Above all, you want to make building relationships part of the way you do business and part of your daily or weekly routine. To help you achieve that, here is a challenge for you!
Once you have prepared your pitch and how you present yourself, block some time in your calendar each week to connect with three new contacts, follow up or reconnect with three previous contacts and help three contacts. Don’t forget to have fun and really be interested in the people you are connecting with. Let me know how it goes!