Top tips for successful networking
By Rhian Morgan
Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM)
Succeeding in business is all about making connections, as one of the world’s top entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, once said. Rhian Morgan talks to Lorna Burroughes, director of networking group Thrive, about why we need to network, how golf can help with business, and her top tips on making networking central to your business success.
Once the kids go back to school, and the sun sets on summer, networking begins again in earnest. As a country person, networking guru Lorna Burroughes uses a harvest analogy.
“I like to think of networking as planting a seed of relationships. You plant them with the initial contact, nurture by staying in touch, nourish and help, and eventually gather. You may have an opportunity to reap or harvest something of significant value, whether it is a referral, employment, advice, or friendship.”
Lorna runs Thrive, a professional networking organisation based on the principle of people getting to know each other by focusing on relationship building. She decided to move into this arena after realising she had a talent with people.
Lorna told me: “I worked for a charity for 11 years, and was networking without realising it. I was making relationships and connections. Then I decided I wanted to work for myself. I thought I could make a difference with the skills I already had. I rebranded just a year ago. You never know who will be able to help each other in the business community.”
So how has Thrive helped the community of Norwich, where she’s based? And what is the essence of networking? Lorna explains: “Networking is not what you can do for me, it is what I can do for you… before you ask. It is all about making connection, something we do all the time as entrepreneurs.
Networking is not about being pushy or aggressive. It is not about selling (though it is a cost-effective way to get sales). It’s about building good-quality relationships before you need them. It can be a brief conversation with someone you already know or a simple act of kindness.”
Building contacts on the golf course
Thrive has fortnightly business meetings where people go to make organic friendships and help each other out. For instance, members repost each other’s blogs. There are also events and one of Lorna’s favourites is golf, where she says you can see a person for whom they really are. Throw a mix of birdies, irons and strangers together, and you have a day of networking bliss,” she comments, with a laugh.
The businesswoman goes on to explain that the qualities people value in the business arena (confidence, self-assuredness, composure, etc) should be displayed on the golf course. She adds: “Golf is a game that involves a lot of downtime, so it gives the opportunity for quality conversation. Play the game with honesty and fairness. For example, if you see someone cheat on the golf course, you know not to do business with them, or to recommend them to contacts. After all, it’s my credibility on the line.”
But I’m a busy professional, you cry. I haven’t time to mess about playing golf, or go to breakfast meetings. Back to Branson again: “These days, the only thing stopping you from building up your network is how much time you dedicate to it. Everyone can and should be a networker.”
Businesses rely on word of mouth to gain new business, so networking is an important part of your strategy. Statistics show that 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than other forms of marketing. And you are four times more likely to buy from a friend. For this reason alone, networking offers a real opportunity in business.
Using social media to network
You can promote yourself or your product on a personal level, and add more trust and creditability. And now, with social media, even the shyest people can make connections – without even leaving their desks.
Lorna advises that, even when you have plenty of work, set aside time on a regular basis to focus on marketing for new clients. If you invest your time when you are busy, your network will be more than happy to give you a substantial return on that investment in the future.
Lorna says being real in business is at the essence of Thrive: “Quite simply, we are social animals. People do business with people, so it is essential we get to know, like, and trust each other. So I consider the best way of doing this is by networking, including meeting, greeting and getting to know others by building good, genuine and authentic relationships. By doing this, you will more likely be remembered and spring to mind when people need you or your services.”
Here are her recommendations for networking success:
Identify your goals, and strengths: What are the objectives that are important to you; what are the problems you want to solve? What are your strengths? Communicate them. Don’t be afraid to share your goals while networking.
Find a common link: Meet interesting people, help them, learn from them, perhaps make a contact that is mutually beneficial or maybe just make a new friend.
Law of reciprocity: Whatever form of value you give, be it service or monetary, you will likely receive the same or greater value in return. Think: “How can I benefit or help this person?” You might be a leader but the world’s a small place. Use your brand, your leverage, your contacts to help other people; it will all come back to you in plentiful business opportunities.
Build your Centre of Influence (COI): Centres of Influence are those people who can help you find the best way and help you accelerate your route to market.
Make networking a regular and consistent part of your marketing: Consider a breakfast meeting before the working day starts. Make time to maintain regular and consistent contact with the people in your network.
Keep a database or CRM system: Keep a record, you are only four or five people away from anything you ever want or need. All you have to do is ask.
Project positivity and beat the fear: Make sure your personality and outlook is attracting relationships and not pushing them away. If you struggle with relationships, bring a friend along to a networking meeting. Practise what you’re going to say beforehand, and just look to make friends first. You can introduce yourself before you even get to the meeting if you’ve connected to someone via LinkedIn or by following on Twitter, and these make great ice-breakers.
Diversify: Connect with, learn from, and build relationships with people who are very different than you. Diversity is key to growing a new network with people in those businesses who know something important that you don’t. The common goal is to find people who are good at what they do and the more diverse these people are the better, as they will connect you to communities you would not normally meet.
Make a lasting impression: Ask thoughtful questions. Listen. Ask what you can do to help. Remember their name and story. Clearly define what you do best. Avoid controversial subjects.
Be prepared with an elevator pitch: Someone will ask you what you do, so be prepared and have your elevator pitch ready to roll. Try to make it interesting and deliver it with passion. Be proud and excited about what you do. But keep it brief. When you expand, make a short story of it, of how you helped a client.
Bring business cards with you: Take the initiative to exchange business cards and make a promise to follow up.
Take the initiative: Be the first to offer an introduction. Make connections for them and initiate meetings between those you think would work well together.
Learn from your mistake: When you attend next time, focus on the areas that you think you want to improve. You may want to get better at introducing yourself, remembering names, asking questions, and so on.
Networking is not purely a numbers game: Try developing connections for growth strategy. Instead of networking with 50 people per month, build 50 relationships in a year, and concentrate and build on these people who can help you succeed.
Try to get a referral: Word-of-mouth referrals are powerful in numerous ways; they cut costs, boost efficiency, add value to you, your products or service, and they can help build an outstanding reputation.
Publicise how you helped a client: Did you save them money? Did you increase sales? Did you help them increase their efficiency? Let people know what your company’s achievements are.
Don’t spread yourself too thinly: The best entrepreneurial relationships are the ones that are close but not too close.
Get social media savvy: Linked In and Facebook are tools with a huge reach, and they can help you keep in touch with and support your contacts. It’s also advisable to have a good, regularly updated website and e-newsletter. But don’t forget your real-life, too. Have a cut-off time when you stay away from your tablets.
Trust that you are an expert: By giving good, solid answers, you will be perceived as the expert. Also, by having recommendations from other people describing your professional expertise, your trust factor will increase.