One of the questions I am asked most often is how I find clients. For me, the answer is always networking. Because I primarily work with other business owners, it is important for me to regularly meet and interact with business owners. While I know there are a lot of people out there who would rather get a root canal than spend their free time networking, if it is important to your business it is important to pay attention to. As a person who has spent a lot of time networking over the past few years, it is something I have developed as a skill. Once you’re good at something, you probably don’t mind doing it as much, so I wanted to share what I've learned. These are things I have learned to get the most out of networking.
1 | How to Break the Ice
Often, the most intimidating part of walking into a room of strangers is getting a conversation started. These are foolproof ways to get the ball rolling.
- Open with a compliment. Not only does it make you instantly more likable, it is a perfectly non-awkward way to start talking to someone. After all, most of us have complimented a stranger in everyday life just because. These can often sound something like, “I love that bag! Where did you get it?” After they answer, it is the perfect time to extend your hand and add “By the way, I’m so and so.” Voila! Conversation started!
- Talk about something relevant (and noncontroversial) in the news. This is one of the reasons you so often find people talking about the weather. While that can always be a fall back, it doesn’t make for the most interesting (or memorable) conversation. Instead, think about upcoming holidays, events happening in your city, or pop culture like a popular movie premiere. For example, if the Fourth of July is coming up, ask if they have anything fun planned. It gives them a chance to talk and for you to learn something else about them so you can keep the conversation going. People like to talk about their business but usually love to talk about themselves and their lives. The more you can learn about them the better the conversation will be.
- Talk about something in the room. The one thing you know for sure is that you are in the same room at the same time, so no matter what something in the room is fair game to get the conversation going. Cool lighting fixtures? Awesome. Talk about it. Elaborate flower decorations. Wonderful. Really funky carpet pattern? Even better. The one caveat is that until you have had the chance to talk a few minutes and evaluate further, try to keep these observations positive so you don’t come across negatively in a first impression.
2 | Pay attention to your body language.
There are so many studies out there describing how body language effects people's perception of others. We have all felt it before, so pay attention when you are meeting strangers. To keep it simple, remember to:
- Smile a lot! It makes you much more likable and trustworthy.
- Turn toward the person you are speaking with. Be engaged in the conversation, not awkwardly looking around the room, coming across as disengaged.
- Be aware of the space and people around you. If someone is standing near you, and you can tell they are looking for a conversation to join (hovering..we've all been there and know how uncomfortable it feels) open your space up to make them welcome too. People respond to and appreciate inviting people.
- Stand up straight and look confident!
3 | Rehearse telling people what you do beforehand.
Honestly, I still consider this to be one of my weaker points. You need to be able to succinctly and effectively explain your business. Being able to do this eloquently will build trust with that person and means you are able to take advantage of the reason you showed up, making this one of the most important parts of what you can practice! Without dominating the conversation, follow up your explanation of your business with an example of a current project you are working on. This will help you to expand on your services.
4 | Perseverance!
If networking is important to your business, don’t get down on it after one event. If getting used to the interaction is the challenge for you, practice will be the best thing for you! Practice not feeling awkward and eventually you will feel less awkward! Pretend you are the most comfortable person in the room and at the very least you will not be the least comfortable person in the room.
If return on the effort is what you focus on, don’t expect to find a new job every time. Sometimes it takes awhile to pay off, but eventually it will. I would say as a rule of thumb, any networking event/group you attend, you should give it 2-3 visits before you determine if it is a good fit for you and your business. There are a few networking groups I went to for years before getting a job out of it, but then ended up being some of my most profitable and enjoyable projects to work on.
5 | Always bring business cards.
Pretty self-explanatory, but still really important. If a person asks for a card, it’s because they at least want to have the option to contact you later. Not having cards will take that option away. And in my biased designer opinion, have nice business cards you feel proud to hand out. Once the interaction is over, your card is the impression they can take with them – make sure it is a good one!
6 | Show genuine interest in the other person.
This is perhaps the best piece of advice I can give - actually care about what the other person is saying. Ask a lot of questions. One of the things a lot people don’t like about networking is that “surface level” interactions can be tedious and exhausting. What if that isn’t how you thought of it? Like I mentioned above, you shouldn’t expect to meet a new client every time you go to an event. If you do you will often leave disappointed and frustrated. But, if you are open to the idea, you can pretty much always expect to meet a new person who has something to share you might not know. People will remember the way you make them feel, so make them feel interesting and heard. In this regard, gaining clients should be looked at as a bonus. I can’t tell you the amount I have learned from others and learned about people in general just by going to networking events. Don't forget that you are likely in a room of similarly minded people and you can learn a lot from others about how they run their business just by listening.
Of course, there is an ultimate purpose and goal, but sometimes you meet the same person multiple times at the same event and the third or fourth time you tell them what you do, they become more interested. Then they become a client. Don’t expect the experience to be entirely self-serving and in the end, at least in my experience, you are a more well-rounded person, better business owner, and eventually a stronger client base.
7 | Lastly, if you aren’t in the mood – don’t go!
Some days, we all have them, are “I can’t even!” days, so don’t force it! There are days when I go to a networking event that I reeeeally don’t want to go to but think I will feel guilty if I don’t. Those are the times that always end up being the least productive and end up being a waste of time. I’m not as nice or friendly as I normally would be and it's obvious to me that I just don’t want to be there. That’s no way to make a first impression. Trust yourself. If you can tell you would rather go home to have that glass of wine than go shake 15+ people’s hands, that’s ok! There will always, trust me, always be another!
Do you do a lot of networking for your business? What are some of the struggles you have encountered? Do you have tips you would add to this list?