The Power of Networking (or a Simple Handshake)
Have you ever wondered what the ROI is on attending a cocktail function, an event or simply by making an effort to spark up conversation amidst strangers? Or to put it simply, working a room, regardless of whether it's in a barn, at the yacht club or at a trade show full of ties and black suits?
One to be referred to as a bit of a serial networker by my entourage, I am often left fascinated when I go in to a meeting with potential clients who (still or just) underestimate the power of the handshake and simply judge a book by a cover.
Don't take blondes and ladies like me, for fools... We very much know our values and know that like me, we are very happy to walk away from talks and negotiations if we feel that countless meetings, calls, and 'let's have another chat' this and that and endless fishing leads to a pretty apparent imbalance of the whole 'you help me, I help you' scenario.
Simple business ethics should be respected but that's a whole different blog article all together, so let's get back to that handshake I mentioned shall we?
How often do sales people go about their business and when faced with a function or meeting lovingly presented to them by the marketing or business development team, back away with all excuses under the moon saying it doesn't lead to direct business or the calibre isn't good enough this that and the other?
Here's the simple art of networking though: get to know as many people as possible, no matter who they are and their title, and your CRM database will rapidly fill up with the influencers and introducers who can potentially (if you actually smile and make an effort to speak with them) lead to some hot shot business one fine day, or rainy day depending on how full your glass (aka business) is...
As the popular saying goes, "never judge a book by its cover." Every single person on the planet has a story. Don't judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you. In fact taking a little time out talking to the shy one or the introvert, could in fact be your gold mine when it comes to skimming the surface of what it is that lies beneath. Be curious!
It still makes me smile when I recall the days I used to attend networking functions in the hey day...
Set the scene: blonde girl of twenty-something, all alone (no violins needed here, it's ok as actually loved the challenge!) semi-fresh out of uni with bags of ambition yet pushed down by corporations, who instead looked up to expensive consultants or brokers (often male) who often had a tendency to eagerly get involved purely for the benefit of their own interests instead of actually help along the business.
A great anecdote as it is funny how the young ones used to be considered "nobody's" for years and exploited to do all sorts of things under the sun and moon, without actually their peers realising their true potential until too late when they were out of that big wide door and picked up by those who actually saw value. On the contrast we see today a lot of today's Millennials being catapulted immediately at a level of pretty senior stuff sometimes...
Or at least solicited to take on crucial posts that actually help develop the businesses of the corporations. Nice to see that BIG change (at long last). Hip hip hurray!
Anyhow, back to the picture I started in the above paragraph ;) Here's the classic scenario at an event relating to the entrepreneur in me. I just walk up to someone or even daringly enough for some of you, to a group of eagerly chatting away people and simply introduce myself! Easy as that. And guess what, to this day, this very simple strategy has always worked.
Maybe it's that I am always smiling, asking questions, making that person or the people I am with feel comfortable? It might be that confident handshake that I often get comments about or just not being shy about who that person or those people in front of me are.
And guess what, 99.9% of the times, I would/will be greeted by a smile and polite chit chat resulting in a business card and a meeting that has been useful to me and my clients in one way or another. Maybe not today, but tomorrow or in ten years time. The small minuscule percentage of the time when I was/am simply given a hello and a kind of bordering rude "excuse me a minute" kind of excuse with eyes spanning the room to escape, just cement the fact that that person simply did not deserve my time.
He/she just didn't make the effort to spend a few minutes understanding what was beneath that business card that once used to say office manager or PR and Marketing coordinator and today proudly states founder and business owner. Well no surprises then that person today is eagerly keen on finding out what my little black book of surprises contains and is lining up behind a queue of influential contacts who actually want to get their share of the pie and value the expertise.
Here's the crux of the moral of this piece: learn to give people the benefit of the doubt. Always be courteous and note that you needn't spend an hour with the person, simply ask questions and make that someone feel like you have all the time in the world and want to learn more about them, their business, what service they offer.
A lot of the time you will remain surprised on how effective relationship building and moreover, follow up from time to time can actually be rewarding in the long run.
With each day that goes by, each new person I meet, I remain thankful at how patience is a virtue and how my fantastic network of contacts have enabled me to position myself and my business where it is. I never underestimate a contact and often find that it is the 'quieter' ones that are the most professional in maintaining contact. I give everyone the same attention, be it the undergraduate or the senior CEO down to even royalty themselves (may I humbly proclaim).
No surprise now then that so many potential clients actually want my little black book then. Well guess what, contacts don't sell and for those who have walked away with excel spreadsheets of endless contacts from others, they are useless to you if you didn't build that relationship up yourself. Also, karma works in funny ways sometimes, so just a word of advice, relish that handshake and don't underestimate it. Nurture it as if it already led to the pot of gold under the rainbow, and last but not least, follow up on all your new connections, even if today it doesn't help you get to the finish line and jackpot, you never know who that person will be in the future or what their next promotion will make them. Integrity is key and a bit of humility never hurt anyone.
So go on, get out and start attending those events before the smarter one who actually takes time grabs that deal off your hands!
Oh and bet most of you on here haven't even bothered to ask me about who I am or where I come from to understand why it is I have the network I have, now have you...
The simple, ask and you shall find out comes to mind :)
Drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org