Tuesday, May 5, 2015

17: Networking

Approach new contacts with the attitude –  “What can I do to help this person?

Approach new contacts with the attitude –  “What can I do to help this person?”

“Networking” sounds like an awful term and may cause you anxiety. In reality, it’s just about the process of relationship building.  Those who are successful at all aspects of networking discover that not only can they lend assistance to others, but that in giving such assistance numerous rewards, both emotional and monetary, can result.
The most successful persons in marketing, once they have identified their target market or niche and develop a marketing program around it, will be required to “network” as part of that marketing plan.
You are already involved in MANY NETWORKS:
·         Your family
·         Childhood friends and neighbors
·         High school friends and teachers
·         College classmates, friends, and acquaintances
You can be involved in many MORE networks because it is important to you!
·         Fraternities or sororities
·         Special interest clubs
·         Your religious place of worship
·         Sport leagues and activities (for you or your children)
·         Community or neighborhood associations
·         Business associations (Chamber of Commerce, “Young Professionals” groups, industry or trade groups for your profession or trade)
Often you can become an “affiliate member” of an industry organization that can help you market your business. This is a great way to network with others in your profession whose market compliments yours and may send business your way as you send business theirs.
Twelve Networking Tips:
1. Don’t Think of it as “Networking.”
Part of the fear-factor surrounding networking is the word “networking” itself.  Instead of trying to “network,” why don’t you “go out to make a new friend”? Why don’t you think of the upcoming industry event or a question on Twitter as an opportunity to help someone? When you solve someone’s problem or point him or her toward a useful resource, all in a friendly manner, you’re networking. That’s all there is to it.  Networking isn’t scary. It’s just making friends and helping people.
2. Be the First to Say “Hello!”
Introduce yourself. Act as if you’re the host and introduce new arrivals to your conversational partner or partners.
If you're wondering how acting as a host can help your introversion, think about when you have guests at your home or office, what do you do? You engage them in conversation and make them feel comfortable. You are a host. What you don't do in your own home or office is stand by yourself in the corner thinking about how much you hate meeting new people.
There are many techniques that can make the process markedly easier, especially for those who consider themselves introverted. For example, volunteering to be an ambassador or visitor host for a local business networking event can be a great way to get involved without leaving your comfort-zone.  Or just going to a party or event and “acting like a host” can put you in the right frame of mind.
3. Smile and Shake Hands.
Smile and always shake hands when you meet anyone. When shaking hands, the web between your thumb and forefinger should touch the web of the other person’s hand.  Shake firmly, just two or three times, then release.
Always smile – always.  Especially when entering a room.  When you smile, others cannot help but smile back.  More importantly, you indicate to others that you are open to conversation and people are attracted to those who smile. With a consistent smile, chances are you’ll see changes in when and how people approach you and their attitudes toward you.  Smiling greatly aids in networking!
4. Remember Names.
Take your time during introductions! Make an extra effort to remember names and use them frequently in the conversation.
5. Maintain Eye Contact.
Maintain eye contact in any conversation. Many people in a group of three or more people look around in the hope that others will maintain eye contact on our behalf. But people don’t feel listened to if you’re not looking at them. Don’t let your eyes stroll around the room, looking for other people to talk to, when there is someone talking to you.
Remember that people want to be with people who make them feel special, not people who are “special.”  Take responsibility to help people you talk to feel as if they’re the only person in the room.
6. Opening Lines and Sustaining the Conversation
In general, approach every conversation with the attitude: “How can I help this person?”  If you find a way to help them through your own advice, by connecting them with others, or sharing an idea, chances are they will reciprocate in the future.
For example, get somebody to talk about why they’re attending the event and you are on your way to engaging them in conversation. Show an interest in every person. The more interest you show, the wiser and more attractive you become to others. Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going.
Play the conversation game. When someone asks, “How’s business?” or “What’s going on?” answer with more than “Pretty good” or “Not much”.  Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you.  At the start of each day, prepare a statement if asked, “How’s it going?”  For example, “It’s a beautiful day today and I’m at the top of my game!”
Better yet, practice your “elevator speech.”  An “elevator speech” is so-named because it’s a pitch that’s so quick you can tell someone on an elevator ride and they’ll be hooked before the doors open.  Remember, you’re not trying to sell something. You’re trying to connect with people and forge new business relationships. Your elevator pitch needs to reflect who you are, what you’re about, and what you can do to help.  Have 2 or 3 lines you can state about yourself that set you apart from everyone else. The best elevator speeches are very short and intriguing and they lead to more questions being asked about you.  (For more about elevator speeches, including examples, see the exercise, following.)
In conversations with business acquaintances, be careful.  You wouldn’t want to open a conversation with, “How’s your job at ________?” What if that person just got fired or laid off? Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s spouse or special friend, you could regret it.
Don’t act like you’re an FBI agent. Questions like, “What do you do?”, “Are you married?”, “Do you have children?”, and “Where are you from?” lead to dead-end conversations.
Show an interest in your conversational partner’s opinion. You’re not the only person who has opinions about government-funded programs or what will happen to the stock market.
Stop conversation monopolists in their tracks. If possible, wait for the person to take a breath or to pause, then break in with a comment about their topic. Immediately redirect the conversation in the direction you wish it to go.
Be prepared with exit lines. You need to move around and meet others.
Don’t melt from conversations. Make a positive impression by shaking hands and saying goodbye as you leave.
When networking in a room with potential clients, drop a hint of what you can do for them.  You might say, “Well, I know you're not likely to be interested in hiring a new employee right now, but I thought I would share a tip with you on how to recruit students should you desire to do this at a later date.” Or give your opinion on a market or industry trend.
It is possible to provide some general value-added advice without coming across like an annoying salesperson.  A statement like this acknowledges that you are not trying to push them, while still demonstrating your expertise. The listener will probably remember the statement when he or she does look for advice.
Another way to ease into networking is to provide a referral or contact. This could be a direct referral (someone you know who's in the market for another person's services) or a solid contact (someone who might be helpful down the road).  Let's say you're networking and you run into a person who owns a printing shop. You talk for a while, you hit it off, and even though you don't know of anyone who's looking for this person's services right now, you'd like to help him out. So you say, “Jim, I don't know of anyone who's actively in the market for printing services right now, but I do have someone who I think could be a big help to your business. Her name is Jane Smith and she's a marketing consultant. I know a lot of her clients need business cards, flyers, and such. I don't know if she has a deal on the table right now, but I think you both would really benefit from meeting each other.”  You see how easy that was? You stated right up front you don't know what will come of the contact. But, then you followed up by saying you do think this person could help and briefly described how. Chances are this will sound like a good idea to your new contact.
7. Ooze Confidence.
Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease people make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.  Be relaxed, polite, interested, and confident.
Look people straight in the eye.  Stand up straight – no slouching! And if you are not confident – fake it!
8. Set Mini-Challenges.
At the beginning of a networking event or an online discussion, give yourself a mini-challenge. Say to yourself, “By the time I leave tonight, two people will have asked me for my business card,” or “Before dessert is served, I will have gotten one person to open up about their web design problems.”
Make sure your challenge is quite small so that it can be completed in an evening, but still a bit of a challenge for you. Try to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. This way, you’ll reach out to people you might normally avoid.
If you attend an event with a friend or colleague, perhaps you could give each other a mini-challenge. Adding this competitive aspect can give you added courage to talk to people.
9. Listen More Than You Talk.
Here’s the real trick to meeting people, and one a shy person can utilize most effectively, most people want to talk. They’ve got a problem (or several) and they’re all too happy to unload that problem onto whoever seems the most receptive.
Often, people don’t want to be told they’re wrong or have a discussion about their problem. Often, they just want someone to listen.
So be a listener.  Ask questions.  Have the other person reveal something about themselves.  And observe the 70/30 rule – your best conversation is when the other person talks 70% of the time and you talk only 30% of the time.
10. Be Prepared.
Spend a few minutes before an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about three topics. They will come in handy when you find yourself in the middle of an awkward moment or while seated at a table of eight where everyone is playing with their food.
Before an event, identify potential contacts. People with power in your niche whose ideals and personality fit yours.
You don’t always have to aim straight for the top players, as everyone will be trying to court their favor.  Look for young innovators, those with truly original ideas, and fresh perspectives. If you can find the people who will become the new industry leaders and give them something of value, they’ll remember you.
As well as researching the people you want to meet, research the event itself. You’ll feel more comfortable and confident if you can prepare. Will refreshments be served, or should you eat beforehand? What will the dress code be? Is it appropriate to bring your portfolio or smart phone along?
Remember, the key to networking is giving. Give information, give advice, give your services, give your personality, and you’ll be well on your way to forging genuine, lasting business relationships.
11. Embrace Online Networking.
Don’t forget online networking. It’s a great place for “first introductions.”  What online networking doesn't do, however, is provide a forum where relationships can deepen. The nature of the medium strips away essential non-verbal communication cues such as facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. It's usually better to use online networking with people only after you've established a relationship with them by traditional means. To develop trust, respect, and true friendship, it's hard to beat in-person conversation and physical contact such as the occasional handshake.
Every college student should possess a LinkedIn page – beginning with their second semester. It’s the way persons in various industries connect with each other. It’s not a “social” page – don’t post pictures of your vacation (or worse, partying) there. Rather, LinkedIn is a place for professionals to connect with one another.
There are many resources to assist you in using LinkedIn properly. Just type “LinkedIn college students” into a Google search.
12. Follow-Up with a Thank You Note.
At the event, exchange business cards or contact details with your new acquaintances.
Follow up the day after the event with a mailed handwritten note and enclose your business card.  Tell them you’ll be calling to see if a morning coffee can be arranged if possible.  Then, after a few days, make the call. The next week, follow up with a quick email or phone call. You have to keep the relationship alive; otherwise, you haven’t really networked at all.
If you discussed a particular topic, perhaps you could do a little further research and send them an interesting article or point out a new blog on the subject.
Follow up online discussions with a note on their social networking page or a private email. Let the person know you’re interested in exchanging ideas on the topic and offer them some interesting points for discussion.
Networking is an acquired skill. It can be learned. All it takes is practice. And the more you practice, the better and the more comfortable you’ll be at your next networking event.
Exercise #1:  Develop Your Own “Elevator Speech” 
You must be able to easily explain what you sell and easily identify who buys what you sell. If you can’t tell anyone those two things in a few simple sentences (i.e., in the time it takes you to travel up a few floors in an elevator), then you aren’t in the right business. For example:
“I am privileged to provide real-world instruction to a group of highly engaged students in financial planning and business law courses at Alfred State College.”
This is an “elevator speech.” Yours should be both distinctive and intriguing.  It should lead the listener to want to ask follow-up questions. Here are some more examples:
A financial planner’s elevator speech: “I help my clients transform their lives, by changing the way they think and act about money and investments.”
A soon-to-be college graduate’s elevator speech may have the following structure:
“Hi, my name is ___________. I will be graduating/I just graduated from ____________________with a degree in _____________________ and I'm looking to be the future star of a growing company.”
Make sure your speech has the “hook” needed to intrigue the listener. Be prepared to pitch your skills or business quickly, succinctly, and impressively when opportunities arise.
To develop your own elevator speech, identify your unique selling proposition. Write down phrases that describe you (if you are searching for a job), or your service or product, and how you or it can benefit others. Throw out the “canned” or “catch” phrases and clich├ęs. Write the pitch in the same manner you speak.  Pay specific attention to how you and your company are uniquely positioned to address the other person’s need. Deliver your unique pitch. Work on it, work on it, and polish it to perfection. Then rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse. Practice it in front of a mirror. Record it and then watch it. Deliver it to friends and family. Get their opinion on it.
Do you have a 15-second elevator speech? When someone asks, “What do you do?” or “Tell me a bit about yourself,” can you reply with a short but intriguing answer?
Do you have a longer, 3-minute elevator speech?  Use this speech to elaborate on questions posed by the other person. Break up your answers by inviting more questions. This longer elevator speech will likely have six parts – each about thirty seconds long:
3 Main Points – intriguing questions or ideas you want to share (Think to yourself, “These are the things I could discuss with you in detail, if you make some more time available to me.”)
Close – ask them for a follow-up meeting
Whatever its length, your elevator speech should be able to lead to follow-up questions from those with whom you speak and offer a teaser as to the benefits you offer to the customer/client. 
Exercise #2:  Establish Your LinkedIn Page
Establish and then maintain your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn has many videos to assist you in both establishing your LinkedIn profile, and then using your profile to connect with others on jobs. Visit http://university.linkedin.com/linkedin-for-students.html, watch several of the videos, and then build your LinkedIn profile and start forming connections.
Exercise #3:  Attend a Reception
Attend a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce, or attend a reception, conference, or seminar.  (Or, if you must, a party.) Establish a goal for yourself in advance of the event. How many new people are you going to have a meaningful conversation with? Review the tips below on further developing your networking skills before attending the event.
Have an Entrepreneurial Conversation
You never go to a meeting, conference, or reception to find a customer or to make a sale.  Rather, you go to find a partner. Learn about them.  Research them thoroughly. Then ascertain how you can work together for the long term. Flesh out ideas on how you and your company can help them.
For example, here’s an “elevator speech” combined with a pitch to start an entrepreneurial conversation. “My company wants to do business on a continuing basis with firms that profit most from what we do. Although I’ve done my homework about your needs the best I could from the outside, it would be helpful if you could tell me more.” As in all conversations, listen authentically to the other person.
Have a “D.O.S.” Conversation
This involves a discussion of what the other person believes is his or her Dangers, Opportunities, and Strengths in their life. That is:
•   “What are your greatest concerns right now?”
•   “Where do (perhaps hidden) opportunities lie?”
•   “What are your strengths for dealing with the dangers and the opportunities?”
Tips for Attending Conferences, Receptions, and Seminars
Remember to Smile and Ooze Confidence!  There are a great many successful people who are inherently shy.  Over time they have acquired the skills to network with others, establish lifelong friendships, and acquire clients. So can you!
Understand the organization hosting the event. What is the nature of the people in attendance? Who is there to sell or introduce a product?  Who is there to network and share ideas?
Are there particular people you desire to meet?  Find out if a list of attendees for the event or conference is available, if so, “Google” them.  Check them out on Facebook and LinkedIn. Review their firm’s web site. In advance of the event, you can even e-mail a person in whom you are interested. For example: “I’m a student in the _____________________ Program at ___________________ College/University. I was reading about (something they wrote, or said, or “about your firm”) and I was hoping to be able to chat with you for a few minutes at the _______________ conference, to gain any insights you may have for a soon-to-be grad, such as me, just starting a career as a __________.  Would it be possible to meet with you, briefly, at some time during the conference? Thank You.”
Plan your attendance. If there are multiple conference sessions to be held at the same time, know what sessions you are planning to attend. This also provides fodder for conversation and questions, especially if you are trying to decide between which one of two sessions running concurrently you will attend. 
Dress for Success. Shined shoes and clean, well-fitting business clothes. Blazers and dress pants or a suit for gentlemen attending receptions and blouses with a skirt, dress pants, or a suit for ladies. Generally speaking, men do not need to wear a tie and women do not need to wear a dress unless the reception is held right before a sit-down dinner. In warm weather, a polo shirt with blazer is also acceptable in most conferences. Basically, office attire for both men and women is the “dress code.” And make sure it would not be deemed “too sexy.”  Your appearance should be neat and well groomed from head to toe.
Don’t Hang Out. While it is okay to attend a function with a friend or colleague, you are typically not there to socialize with just the people you came with or already know. Don’t just gather in groups with those you already know and stay there. Get out and mix with strangers. After a few minutes of conversation with a person, he or she will no longer be a stranger!
Act Like the Host. Pretend you are the host of the event. Introduce people to one another. Make sure you know where the food and restrooms are at, so you can direct persons that way if asked.
One of my favorite introductory questions when I find myself playing the role of pretend host is, “Hi, (read name from badge). How is the conference going for you?” Follow up with questions such as, “Did you enjoy the opening keynote speech this morning?” or “What was the best breakout session you’ve been to?”
Don’t eat or drink too much.  Certain times are not appropriate for eating a great deal or drinking alcohol.  Receptions at conferences commonly provide food, but are usually just appetizers, which are not an invitation to “fill up.” They also may provide alcohol. It is acceptable to have a drink or two, as long as you do not overindulge and get inebriated. Conference receptions are not fraternity parties, nor is the “hospitality suite” provided at some conferences. Both are simply another way to network.
For example, a common practice of recruiters is to host a reception after a day of interviewing students at a college campus. The recruiters focus on the students who show up and who also had good interviews. They also pay attention to the students’ behavior at the reception. If those students who have attracted their attention eat or drink too much, it’s a negative sign of their ability to control themselves and present a professional demeanor at all times. (This author landed a job at a top law firm right out of law school, in part because I ordered ginger ale instead of drinking alcohol at the reception following the interviews. I learned of this through a senior partner’s comment to me a year after I joined the firm.)
Realize - Others, even experienced practitioners, can be shy.  Some individuals may be preoccupied.  Don’t get discouraged if your first or second attempt to “network” does not work out!
Tips for Approaching Others at a Reception or Conference
Maintain a pleasant attitude. Have a positive attitude, tell yourself that this will be a good, worthwhile conversation, and look forward to the opportunity to start building a relationship with a new person.
Observe your surroundings and comment. Example: “This is a nice layout” or “I really liked the shrimp.”
Ask a question. Example: “Have you been to many ___________ conferences before?”
Learn from your “failures.” Others, even experienced practitioners, can fail at networking at times. Some      individuals may be preoccupied making it difficult to engage them in conversation. Don’t get discouraged if your first or second attempt to “network” does not work out!
Obtain Business Cards while Networking
Make a game of it. How many business cards can you get?  But, go about it the right way! Even if you are a student, you should have a “business” card.  Special business card paper and computer software enables you to design and print your own supply at a low cost.
Hand out your card only if you are asked for it.  You don’t necessarily want to pass out your card.  What you want is to get other people’s cards, because that puts you in control of future contact with that person. Plus, it also looks better if you are the one asking for the card!
Correctly Break Into Group Conversations
Some people inappropriately break into conversations. You’ve probably experienced this in social situations as there are “open” and “closed” networking conversations. Identifying an “open” one and approaching it tactfully is a useful network skill.
Typically, if two people are facing each other during a conversation, it would be considered a “closed” conversation. It may be rude to try to break into a “closed” conversation.  If two people are at an angle to and not facing each other directly, that is an indication that they might be open to having another conversation partner.  If there is a group of people, sometimes try to sort of linger on the edge for a little bit and they might non-verbally invite you in. Alternatively, they may say something that strikes your interest and you can just make a little interjection.
Use Permission-Based Marketing to Enhance Your Newsletter List
When you obtain a person’s business card, ask if you can contact them or add them to your newsletter mailing list.  Don’t send out newsletters to someone you’ve just met without asking permission first. I was once approached by a person gathering business cards at a conference and by the time I got home from the conference I had an email that said “Hi, I’ve added you to my newsletter list.”  Apparently she emailed everyone whose business card she took, because the email had a large number of recipients. 
Newsletters are supposed to be permission-based marketing.  If you didn’t ask permission in person, you can ask in a subsequent e-mail, “Hey, it was great meeting you. I put out a newsletter and if you’re interested, here’s a link (or reply) to be a part of my mailing list.”  That way it’s “opt-in” rather than “opt-out.”
Learn “Small Talk” Skills
To enhance your “small talk” skills, the author suggests Diane Windingland’s Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success! ($3.99 Kindle price at Amazon.com).  There are also numerous videos on YouTube illustrating how to make “small talk.”
After the event you attended, write an essay of 300 to 400 words in your journal, which describes “what worked” and “what did not work” for you during your networking activities.  Did you reach your goal as to how many new people to establish a meaningful relationship with?

Dr. Ron A. Rhoades is an Asst. Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University's Gordon Ford College of Business, where he chairs the (B.S. Finance) Financial Planning Program. An innovative, passionate teacher, he is the author of Choose to Succeed in College and in Life: Continously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey (2014)from which many of these blog posts are derived.

Dr. Rhoades also serves as a consultant to the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of independent, Fee-Only financial planners making competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people. He is the author of several books, dozens of articles, and he is a frequent speaker at financial planning and investments conferences. He is the recipient of many awards for his advocacy on behalf of the fiduciary standard. Dr. Rhoades is also a member of The Florida Bar, and he practices estate planning and transfer taxation for select current clients.

Dr. Rhoades and his wife, Cathy, reside in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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