It’s a self-marketing tactic I’ve come to hate…
I’m talking about networking.
When you get down to it, networking is cold, sterile… and it seems self-serving: one person trying to form a web of contacts whose sole purpose is to do something for him.
That’s not how I want to do business.
Lately, I’ve been rethinking what “networking” means. When I meet people at a so-called “networking” event, what is my end-game?
And you know what? My ultimate goal is not to find out what they can do for me… It’s not to add them to my address book until I need something from them…
It’s to connect with them!
When I meet people, I want to really understand why they do what they do. I want to find out if their purpose and mission is synergistic with my purpose and mission for Working Moms Only. And, if it is, how we can work together or for one another to best serve our prospective communities. I think of it as “What can we do for each other?” instead of “What can you do for me?”
When I take this approach, deals follow. And when a deal is made between two people (notice I did not say two businesses) who have connected – as opposed to “networked” – money usually follows.
Making a connection does require a bit more “work” than simply shoving your business card at a potential client. But the extra money you can make and the new opportunities you can open up to your community are well worth the effort.
Yet, all too often, people are scared to put themselves out there. Unfortunately, insecurity and discomfort can be perceived as arrogance or even disinterest. Sometimes, fear and uncertainty come across as a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. That can offend the very people you’re trying to connect with. And before you know it, a potential million-dollar deal flies out the window.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Conquering the World of Connecting
At a recent event, Lisa Nichols and I were enjoying a lovely conversation over lunch. (Lisa is a well-known motivational speaker, and one of the featured teachers of “The Secret.”) Suddenly, a woman I had met at a prior event sat down at the table and interrupted us.
She said, “MaryEllen, you are certainly a hard woman get hold of. I e-mailed you last week and I have not heard back.”
No “Hi, how are you.” No “Nice to see you again.”
My first thought was, “Do you really think this kind of rude behavior is conducive to me wanting to do business with you?” But what I said was, “Yes, Sue, I received the e-mail on Thursday. I left to come here on Monday. I was planning on returning your e-mail later in the week.”
This is a perfect example of why many people do not end up with business from networking events. They have not mastered event etiquette. Nor have they discovered the best way to make lasting connections.
The biggest mistake I see people making is assuming that their highest priority is the highest priority of the person they are trying to do business with.
By adopting that attitude, the only thing they will leave the event with is a lot of useless business cards!
My Top 7 Secrets to Creating Lasting, Money-Making Connections
1. Cultivate your business connections the way you would any relationship.
You need to project an image of warmth, approachability, understanding, knowledge, and empathy. Be genuine. Take an interest in everyone you meet, remember their names, and listen carefully to them. Try to understand their needs and determine how you could assist each other. Building trust is a vital component of relationship building.
2. Understand that “small talk” is the road to “big time.”
Being able to talk to anyone about anything is a valuable skill in its own right, but it’s absolutely essential for making connections. Being able to initiate a conversation makes it more likely that you will meet people who will turn out to be invaluable contacts. To start a conversation off on the right foot, keep a few key questions up your sleeve. Examples: “Where are you from?” “How did you get started?” “Do you have children?”
3. Develop active listening skills.
Connecting is not about selling yourself, your products or services, or your business. It is about showing the other person that you are truly interested in them. Allow them to open up and talk freely. Give them your undivided attention, even if only for a few minutes. Take an interest in what’s said and acknowledge it by nodding or agreeing. Use positive body language – e.g., facing the person you are speaking to. And be sure to make eye contact! Never check your phone while they’re talking or look over their shoulder to see who else is around.
4. Be a giver.
When you focus on helping others, the “getting” will follow. (And it will often come in unexpected ways!) Remember, nobody likes a “taker.” But when you are generous, others will notice. And you will earn their respect and trust. One way to do this is to try to connect other people at the events you attend. It can be as simple as making one-on-one introductions or as elaborate as giving a testimonial about a person and their services to the entire group.
5. Don’t be a Debbie Downer.
Put on a happy face when you walk in the door. Others will look forward to meeting you if you are energetic, positive, and outgoing. Keep in mind that people enjoy doing business with people they like – so be likeable! If you’re stressed over things happening at work or at home, remind yourself of everything you are grateful for. Let your blessings fill you with happiness and confidence – and carry those good feelings with you. The last thing you want to do is burden other people with your problems. (They have enough of their own!) Instead, try to make them forget their troubles while in your presence.
6. Don’t sell.
Remember what I said about listening rather than trying to sell yourself or your business? Connecting is not about pushing your agenda. It’s about building relationships. Once you’ve made a connection, that person will likely be happy to tell others about who you are and what you do. And word of mouth is a thousand times more effective than you talking about how great you are.
7. Follow up with originality.
Many people think that the same old e-mail follow-up is always okay. Well, it’s not. After the event, send a hand-written note… a poem you wrote about something you discussed… or a relevant newspaper clipping. If you have truly made a connection, the follow-up will be easy and effortless.
By having the right attitude, connecting with others becomes second nature. People see you as someone they want to work with, not as a self-interested businessperson focused on making sales.[Ed. Note: MaryEllen Tribby, ETR’s former publisher and CEO, followed her lifelong dream and started a new company, Working Moms Only, to help women balance work and family life. Keep an eye out for her columns in ETR on the challenges facing working moms, on marketing, business building, and more. And check out the Working Moms Only website and sign up for MaryEllen’s free e-letter here.]