The first time

I remember my very first business networking meeting for Sorted 4 You. I was contracting at one of the large insurance companies in town and selected this particular club because;

a) The 7.15 to schedule meant that I could leave early-ish and arrive at my day job on time.

b) It was walking distance from my home.

I believe there were only around 6 or 7 people at the club at the time. Every member in turn was so welcoming and encouraging.  Most people at networking meetings are helpful and look out for the newcomers; this does indeed alleviate the fear of networking to a degree, but the first time can otherwise be a bit daunting.

Why network?

When you are passionate about something, you can’t help but tell the world at every opportunity.

If you believe in your business you will be passionate about it. The more people that are aware of you means the more people you can serve which in time will lead to your  success.

Remember nothing grows in a vacuum. The greatest business owners have supportive networks assisting them and contributing a skill which the business owner lacks.

The best way to grow your business is for people to know you and trust you. This is even more important if you have a service based business.

Focus on your product and the benefits it provides.  The fear of networking will subside once the focus is on your offer rather than you.

IBe the connector.

It’s not all about direct sellng.

If you enter a networking meeting with the objective of selling to everyone in the room, then stop right there!

We’ve all heard the story of the guy who enters the room and business card-bombs at every opportunity without even finding out what the dickens you actually do.  He doesn’t know if his services are relevant to you. You are more likely to lose that card in the bottom of your handbag and even if you keep it safe, it’s unlikely that he would have made a positive impression on you.

Networking is not about direct selling.  It’s about building long lasting relationships. Take time to speak with the other attendees. Find out about his or her business. Think of ways you can help. Do you know anyone who could use that particular service?

If you take an interest in others, this will be remembered and you will be more likely to receive a referral for whatever service you offer.

Act it out in advance

The thought of walking into a wall of chatting people can be incredibly daunting.

Have a list of questions prepared ahead of time.  Everyone is there for the same purpose and expect new people to start chatting with him or her.

Look carefully at the different groups around the room. Are they in a closed huddle speaking in hushed tones or are one or two of the groups looking a little more spaced with a gap enough for you to join in?  Ask if you can join in. I’ve always received a positive response at this request. Other people are overjoyed if you express an interest in their business and ask questions. Do however, try to think of something more imaginative than ‘What do you do?’

Joan Rivers actually practised scenarios in advance. In an interview with journalist, Nina Myskow, broadcast on Radio 4, Boxing day 2014, Ms Rivers revealed that she did not relish attending public events and that she always ran scenarios and practised conversations in her head beforehand. No one at the events would dream that this quick witted raconteur was really an anxious bundle of nerves on the inside.

Once again this strategy of asking questions changes the focus from you to the other person in a comfortable way and you get to learn more about how this potential relationship could be mutually beneficial.

Be early

Devora Zack, author of ‘Networking for people who hate networking’ shared a useful piece of advice. She suggested that you should attend networking events a little early. You are not then confronted by the customary mass of people and noise.  Those arriving later will be more likely then to gravitate towards you, which would then make it easier to start a natural conversation and reduce the fear of having to approach a stranger.

Start small

If you, like me,  are an introvert, the thought of network meetings will bring you out in a cold sweat.  It doesn’t have to be like that. Start small.

Some network groups have only a few attendees. Why not call the venue in advance and ask how many people usually attend?

 Or go to a meeting that provides breakfast or lunch. You can then strike up a conversation about food and then move on from there. Nothing beats the fear of networking better than the love of food!

Start online

Face to face meetings still too much to deal with just yet?

Try an online networking group.  Your linked in profile will let you search for groups of interest to you and you can simply request to join. Once you are a member, become quite active and contribute to the conversations. Ask and answer questions. Be helpful.

1.   Follow groups in social media
Join a Facebook Group or start your own;  You can create a number of groups to which you can invite people to join or they can jump in to the conversation.

2.   Google hangouts
Haven’t heard of Google hangouts on Google+?

Google hangout lets individuals from your Google+ network or ‘Circle’ join a video conference. Hold a public or unlisted hangout. Ideal if you want feedback from a group, without geographical constraint. You then have the option to post your meeting to youtube.

And guess what? It’s absolutely free!

Try a meetup

I can tell that your confidence is building now.  You are ready to start meeting people in small, friendly informal groups.

You are ready to graduate on to a ‘Meetup’ –

Visit the free Meetup website and find groups with similar interests to your own in a location near you. No pressure to sell yourself or your business but during the natural course of conversation you will naturally open up about yourself and your business.

I know of one lady who met someone she could do business with while at her ‘Mums and baby buggy’ exercise session in the park.  The only pressure was to get to the top of the hill while pushing a buggy with a baby in it.

The costs of the Meetups vary upward from free to whatever the outlay of the meeting may be.

Do your research

A friend told me of her experience of entering a networking event where she faced clusters of small groups of males dotted about the room with accountants talking to accountants and financial advisers talking to financial advisers. As she had attended to promote her line of clothes for ladies she said she and the other attendees knew immediately this particular meeting wasn’t for her. Luckily, this didn’t put her off attending different network meetings.

Get to know a little bit about the other delegates beforehand.  Make use of Facebook and linked in.

There may be some people that you have a natural synergy with, for example the body image hypnotherapist may have commonality with the hair dresser as they both may have brides in common which they can refer between them. The bride wants to look good on her wedding day so naturally she would need a hairdresser, while the life coach would help her towards her goal of losing weight for the big day.

Researching ahead of time will increase familiarity, so by the time you arrive you will feel as though you already know everyone.

What competition?

Yes it’s good to see who and what are trending in your field.  What are others doing well and how can you replicate that?

Are others likely to try and ‘steal’ your business?  What are you doing to maintain or improve customer satisfaction?

But don’t dwell too hard. It will drive you crazy. If you are worrying about other people’s business, you can’t be working on yours.

Just be sensible and make sure your clients are so happy with you, they wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere.

You are unique

There may be times when you come across a net-worker in the same line of work. How would this make you feel? Competitive? Defensive?

Try not to let it bother you. Just think about the number of people in your social networks, town, or even your virtual domain if your work is Internet based.

There is more than enough work for you all; furthermore, you are unique. Emphasize your differences. Let people know about the real you. What experiences are you bringing to your business, what little bit extra value do you provide?

You are your own brand and your own Unique Selling Point.

Don’t let comparisonitice make you fearful of networking.

You are awesome! Let everyone know about it.

I would love to hear from you.

Please let me know your first networking experiences. What advice would you give to others about overcoming first meeting nerves?

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