Connecting is not enough…

By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

'The right road lies under your tongue—just ask.' Chinese Proverb

Networking can be fun, it can be very social and it can help you meet some great friends. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, if you are like the vast majority of networkers, you are investing your time and money in networking because you believe that it will help you to grow your business.

If that is the case somewhere along the line you are going to be looking for tangible results from your networking activity. You need to know what you want to achieve first and then plan how you are going to get there. A key part of that is helping your networking contacts to understand how they can help you.

At some point, the person to whom you are speaking will ask you what you do. Hopefully, you will already have their interest by focusing on them and showing an interest in their business and their needs.

As soon as you tell somebody what you do, a little voice in their head makes a decision about your relevance to them. If they do not perceive that what you have to offer is of interest, they will switch off.

Avoid these preconceptions by responding to the question “What do you do?” in a way that invites further questions rather than switching people off. Tell people how you help your clients. By that I don’t mean the mechanics of what you do but the benefit of your actions.

For example, if you are an accountant, there are several different ways in which you can answer the question “What do you do?

You could go for the honest and obvious approach of answering the question with a simple “I’m an accountant.” The problem with this is that it will immediately switch people off if they are not interested in accountancy or if they do not have a current accounts problem.

If, instead, you focus on an area of your work or the mechanics of it, you can still invite people’s judgement, saying instead: “I help my clients to avoid any problems with their tax returns and make sure that their accounts are completed accurately and on time.” If you are not focused on your tax return or your accounts at the time of this conversation, what would your response be?

Your response when asked what you do needs to stimulate further conversation, to invite people to want to hear more. When you have answered it should be unavoidable for people to ask a further question, such as “How do you do that?” or “Does that mean you…?

For our accountant, you might answer that you help your clients focus on their core business or help people to enjoy their work. When asked to elaborate, you can explain how people don’t tend to go into business to worry about tax returns or accounts. By relying on someone who does enjoy that side of business, they can focus on the part of the business that they are passionate about, their core business.

This brings to life the benefits of having an accountant, not the mechanics of completing tax returns but the freedom it offers you, so you can focus on other areas.

Try to avoid sounding too clichéd when you answer, you need your response to sound interesting, not scripted. The end result though, is that the person to whom you are speaking is almost compelled to ask a question as a result, such as “How do you do that?” thereby engaging them in a conversation.

Be passionate

If you are not passionate about your business, how can you expect anyone else to be? To make an impact; for people to want to know more; to ensure that others really believe that you are the person to speak to or refer in your field, you need to inspire them through your enthusiasm and passion.

If you can enthuse people with your passion they will be drawn to you. As Nigel Risner, author of You Had Me at ‘Hello’ says “People buy passion, not products.”

When you talk about what you do, talk with conviction, with belief and with a smile on your lips and sparkle in your eye. When someone asks you a question, give a considered response rather than a mechanical one. Give alternatives and be generous with your advice and support where possible. Remember the impact that you will make if you help someone without expecting anything in return.

Don’t be a ‘loner’

As Mike Southon says in The Beermat Entrepreneur, “Entrepreneurs truly change the world. But they don’t do so alone.” A key mindset to lose before you go to networking events is the ‘loner mentality’. Loners are people who either don’t feel worthy of other people’s help or feel that they can achieve their ambitions without the help of others. If you feel like that then people are going to find it very difficult to help you and you will struggle to get benefits from your networking.

It is important to understand that you are but one cog in the wheel of commerce and industry. We need to do our bit and everyone else to do theirs if the machine is going to operate effectively and this is the basis on which networking works.

The ‘Loner Mentality’ will get in your way to success through networking. Other people can help you when you need support, information or just need to discuss ideas and see how realistic your plans are.

Instead of being self–reliant, be as open to the prospect of other people helping you as you now are to the opportunities to help others. Be aware of when people may be in a position to help and who their connections are. With that awareness, when people want to help, you can help them to understand how they can do so effectively.

It’s how you ask

It is vitally important that you think about the way you ask for help as well as just the timing of it. You can risk alienating friends and destroying relationships if you ask in the wrong way.

Your requests should be clear and concise and easy for the other person to both digest and act upon. It should also be empowering rather than demanding, ensuring that the other person is delighted to help you rather than feeling put on the spot or under pressure.

Spell it out

When people ask how they can help you, help them by asking for what you want and making it easy for them to understand how they can be of assistance. Our culture sometimes tells us that it is rude to ask for things, we should wait until they are offered. However, I am a great believer that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Don’t expect your networking contacts to be mind readers. Communicate very clearly the contacts of value to you, the clients you are looking for, and the help you need. So many companies recognise the value of referrals and recommendations to their business but don’t do anything about it.

One firm of accountants wrote to their clients and asked them a simple question, “Would you be happy to recommend us to any of your contacts who need a new accountant?” 80% of the people they wrote to replied, all confirming that they would be more than happy to do so. Until that point, the firm had not been receiving many referrals from their clients at all. Why? They had never asked.

Paint a picture

Let your network know what you do, who you do it for and how you benefit your clients. Make sure that they understand your business in as much depth as possible. People who attend referral groups and who stand up each week and say what they do often don’t understand why they don’t receive the quality of referrals they are looking for. The reason is that they are not giving their fellow members the right information. They are focusing on the mechanics of their business and not the benefits.

You need to be able to paint a picture for people. People need to know:

• Who you want to talk to?

• How they can recognise them?

• Why they would want to talk to you?

• How you can help them?

I have heard Financial Advisors ask to be introduced to ‘High net–worth individuals'. Speak simple language that others can understand. If they had asked to be introduced to people who live in a certain affluent borough or people who drive high performance or luxury cars, they would have made it much easier for the others in their group to recognise their potential clients. Paint a picture to help people recognise their own contacts.

Don’t be afraid to be specific. The clearer and more focused the picture you paint; the more likely it is that people will be able to make the connection for you.

How do you eat an elephant?*

Some people struggle with being specific because they are looking for a wide range of clients for whom they can offer a number of services. In these circumstances, the key is to break down the services you offer or your customer base into bite–size chunks (*this is how you eat an elephant by the way!).

Don’t be frightened to focus on just one part of your business when making a request. Would you prefer to speak about your whole business but get no referrals because you haven’t been specific enough or focus in on one area of your business and get a connection?

The second edition of ‘…and Death Came Third! The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public’ is published on May 11th by Ecademy Press. You can purchase your copy on Amazon

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

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