Listen to this episode.
Did You Know?
That today we’re joined by returning guest Paul Scharff! We last spoke to Paul about photography but today we’re taking on networking because Paul is the regional director of our local BNI (Business Network International).
And “Did you know?” is the questions that BNIers ask to help set up the explanation for some aspect of their business that may be important or interesting to other people.
For example, did you know that most people don’t really understand networking?
What Is Networking, Really?
Paul says both casual networking (like meeting someone on a park bench and talking business) and structured networking (like attending BNI or another group) is making connections with other people, which over time yields business for you and others.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Lots of people, it seems. Paul says the concept of networking freaks people out and he’s right.
By The Way, We’re Not Talking About BNI…
That’s been my best experience with networking so I reference it, but the conversation is not about BNI. The things we talk about can be applied universally to networking in any group, anywhere.
We’re Not Taught Networking In School
If you were going to a dinner party you’d probably look forward to the hors d’oeuvres, but tag on the word “networking” and people freak out.
They think something is expected of them but aren’t sure what.
They know they have to talk about themselves but don’t know how much.
They know how to have a conversation but suddenly they don’t know where to start, end or what goes in the middle.
After this conversation you should feel a lot more confident in your ability to network effectively.
I Know A Guy
One of the great things about being part of a networking group is that you get to know more about other great businesses and whenever your friends ask you for someone to paint their house, you can say… I know a guy.
Or if they need someone to help them with their retirement plan you can say… I know a guy.
Need to remodel your kitchen? I know a guy! Need a photographer? I know a guy!
And as part of that group you’re one of those “guys” who people refer to their friends and family.
What’s The Goal Of Networking?
Here’s what it’s not: selling your product or service to the people in the room.
Here’s what it is: building relationships with the people in the room so they will go out into the world as your sales team and evangelists and bring business to you.
Convinced yet that a networking group can do you some good? Read on…
What Makes A Good Networking Group?
Paul says that before you join a networking group, you should visit many different groups. Not only do you get to talk about yourself and your business for a few minutes but you usually get breakfast out of it!
So if you’re out there vetting groups, here are a few things you can look for…
Organization. Is someone in charge? Do people seem to know what they’re doing, where they’re going and what’s happening next or is it just a bunch of people without direction?
Venue. You don’t need to dine at the Marriott in order to have a good networking meeting. Paul says a good group can meet in a junkyard in Schenectady in the rain. But he also says you should watch out for distractions. If you’re in a diner, even if it’s a great diner, and you’re constantly being interrupted or battling the noise, that’s not a good sign.
Chemistry. Sometimes you just click with a group and sometimes you don’t. There’s no real reason but if a group doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t for you.
What Makes A Good Networking Meeting?
Paul says the first and most important thing is that you feel welcomed. If you’re new to a group and nobody greets you or says hello, that’s a problem.
He tells a story of one group he visited on a rainy morning, and before he could even get out of his car, someone showed up with an umbrella to escort him inside. They made him feel like a guest of honor.
Paul also says that structure is good even though it may seem weird at first. One of the things BNI does is give members 60 seconds to talk about themselves and their business. When 60 seconds is up, someone rings a bell. If you’re new to BNI that may seem really weird and disconcerting but the point is to keep things fair so everyone has the same amount of time and everyone gets out of the meeting on time.
It’s Not About Handing Out Your Business Card
Paul says you might as well hire a drone to drop cards all over the place and you’ll get the same effect.
Paul also says that you shouldn’t walk into a room and immediately start talking about yourself. Listen first. Ask people about themselves and have a conversation.
Finally, Paul says, have your elevator speech ready. But not only that, have your 2-floor elevator speech ready and your 6-floor elevator speech ready. That way you can pull out one or the other depending on how much time you have or what the circumstance calls for.
It’s About How You Pitch Yourself
Don’t tell people what you do. Tell people who you help.
Rather than standing up and saying, “Hi, I’m Ralph and I run a marketing company,” it would be far more beneficial to tell people, “Did you know that Google recently changed their search algorithm so if your site isn’t mobile friendly it won’t show up as well in search? I help people build sites that can be found in search so they don’t have to worry about Google or algorithm changes.”
Which one do you think will entice someone to want to learn more?
Tell People What Type Of Customer You’re Looking For
In my group there is a business owner who cleans ducts. If all he ever says is, “My company cleans ducts,” that makes it tough for me to refer business to him. How many people do you know walk around talking about their ducts? Probably not a lot.
But when he says instead, “I’m looking for a customer that has allergies and wants relief,” now the pool opens. I know plenty of people with allergies and they all want relief. I had no idea – until he mentioned it – that having clean ducts would help.
By being specific about the customer he’s looking for, he gets a lot more business.
Think about how you can make your ask (in networking lingo) specific. It helps to have an avatar that you can use as an example.
Networking Keeps You On Your Game
If you’re in a formal networking group you have to do your best. Otherwise you’ll be in a room full of people who will never refer you to anyone.
Being in a networking relationship can help keep you on top of your game and performing at your best because you don’t want to disappoint the people you see every week.
Find A Power Partner
My colleague who cleans ducts is a great power partner for the guy who steams carpets.
A real estate attorney is a great power partner for a mortgage broker.
But even people who seem like competitors can be a great power team. Think of Paul as a photographer who specializes in commercial photography. He’s a great partner for wedding photographers.
The idea is to find someone whose business complements yours so you’re more likely to have opportunities to refer business to each other.
You can even team up with direct competition. We know plenty of top notch marketing companies and web developers who we’d refer business to in a heartbeat. Remember, not every client is right for every business, so maybe someone we’re not a good fit for would do well with one of our respected competitors.
Should A Networking Group Track Referrals?
BNI keeps track of how much business was passed (in dollars) each year. That freaks some people out but the truth is, it can help motivate you against a goal and be a useful tool to evaluate how well your group is operating.
But, Paul says, that’s not the only thing that should be tracked. It’s just one metric in your toolbox. Maybe some people don’t refer a lot of business but they bring great guests. Maybe some manage the group or after-hours events. There are plenty of ways to measure the success of a group so don’t be afraid of the idea of tracking revenue exchange.
In A Nutshell…
Listen before you talk. Don’t obsess over the word “networking”, just have a conversation. Be specific about who you help and how. Try out a bunch of networking groups before committing. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Make sure the chemistry is there and if not, enjoy your breakfast and move on. Look at networking as a long game and think of the people in your group as your sales team and evangelists. And remember, always be awesome!
Your Marketing Action Item
From Paul: In the next 48 hours when you run into someone in your day-to-day life, ask them about their business. For example, if you see someone standing in line for coffee wearing an “Al’s Electricians” t-shirt, start a conversation. Ask him three or four questions about what he does. Then just listen!
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