So I’m being a bit provocative here. I’ve been to a fair sample of networking events and they can vary a lot, from awkward breakfasts to speed networking with 3 minutes to sell yourself. I’m a big fan of the Andrew and Pete approach of not selling yourself directly but making yourself approachable and memorable, say with indoor fireworks… Well possibly fireworks in your hand don’t make you approachable at that moment but you get the idea. Here’s my argument to help you turn down some business cards.
Why traditional networking events are dead
I think that marketing is everything you do. You leave a footprint on social media but you have an impact whenever you engage. The most successful friends I have with their own businesses are adept and confident at talking to anyone about what they do and how, simply because they are passionate about it, so it beams out of them. So it’s a mistake to restrict the concept of networking to something you do to sell your business. That can lead to you putting pressure on yourself for every word you say at a ‘networking’ event, which isn’t helpful either for you or whoever you’re chatting with.
Lunch, breakfast or evening events. Am I alone in thinking these are times when most of us would quite like to either switch off or reserve for something more focused, making the most of when your energy levels are at their peak?
So. Stop doing the networking that you find awkward. I have one PR colleague who simply uses networking as a way to exercise her ability to chat and put people at their ease. This has always struck me as a fabulous way to think about talking to people you know either not at all or very superficially. It’s very possible you find interacting through social media very awkward – and you’re not alone. But how about swapping blogs with another business who has common interests with you or finding out more about your clients. The lovely folk at DIY Kitchens have this down to a tee – send them a pic of your new kitchen to be entered into a draw. Boom! They have an insight into what makes you tick by seeing the finished kitchen from DIY Kitchens. I’m not biased but yes we did buy our kitchen from them and they did send us Yorkshire tea with our order, again neat marketing and product use to promote themselves (they’re based in Yorkshire).
How telling your story gets you listeners
Listening to the radio tonight I was struck by an article during Mental Health Awareness Week talking about how telling the story of your life is such a mentally healthy skill to practice. You’re the narrator so work out your story and practice it by actually using social media and other communications to help you refine it and test what you’re truly comfortable saying. A closed Facebook group can be one good way to do this.
So here’s one example, a contact in one group posted an event she’d organised but she’d borrowed that image from a poster so it wasn’t reflective of the lack of context that people experience on social media. So she’s not included where the event was. And when I asked where it was instead of simply saying the address or area she responded with an emoticon suggesting I read the image more closely. Not good on several fronts. Your story might be simply how you became the go to person for printing in your area, so people can trust you with their precious leaflets that broadcast their dream – show them you will take good care of their ambition.
Start networking online
Come. On. You knew this was coming, I do social media management – and website management to boot. Of course it was coming. If you can do the following you’re getting something very right, it doesn’t need to take long. I’d say 10 minutes a day is fairly easy to find once you’ve narrowed down which content type and channel is right for you:
- connecting with individuals with shared values and interests
- supporting a local business that you love by commenting and sharing their posts
- actively looking to speak to, link your website to people and businesses your clients will find inspiring and of interest.
This tells customers you know them, you’re approachable and gives you a chance to show your expertise. If planning content to get maximum reach, getting value for money from your website investment or showing your customers some empathy online (and finding the pesky little critters too!) is what you’re interested in, just get in touch for a chat.