There are a number of different ways to achieve this, but for me, by far the most successful means to develop a robust commercial pipeline has always been networking.
Before I progress, I should tell you, I’m fully aware of just how hideous the concept of networking is for many! Trust me when I say I’ve been to more than my fair share of networking events where I’ve met someone who has asked me who I am and what I do, without even attempting to disguise their disinterest as they peruse the horizon for someone more interesting or relevant to introduce themselves to. Trust me also when I say that those people are DOLTS!
I think the challenge is that, over the last 20 or so years, as the corporate world has attempted to suck every last penny of value out of the commercial transaction process, networking has been perceived increasingly as a commoditised process, where certain actions should yield certain outcomes. Business people have come to networking events with certain targets or quotas to hit, and certain expectations around finding convertible business leads. It leaves the rest of us feeling more than a bit queasy.
I think I have good news, however. I’ve recently resumed attending local and regional business networking events and, if I’m not mistaken, things appear to be changing. If more of us can assume a more sensible, pragmatic approach to networking, then I’m confident that the activity will ultimately bear more fruit for all.
So, what is this sensible pragmatic approach? Here are my top tips:
- Don’t approach any networking event thinking that it’s immediately going to provide new business referrals. This is way too transactional and mercenary for most people, who innately would prefer to build up some kind of rapport first.
- Go with the expectation of quite simply just getting along with people and having a pleasant conversation about business in general. You’ll find with this approach that the whole event is far more relaxed and 99 times out of 100, you’ll come away with someone new to have coffee with at a later date. That’s the point at which you can find out more about one another, and these are the people who, if you click, will talk about you elsewhere and pass your details on.
- Use networking events to build an eco-system of like-minded contacts. These are the people who will help you when running your own business (inevitably) gets hard and the people you will connect with for conversation that replaces the office banter that is so lacking in the world of self-employment.
- Share stories about being independent. Networking isn’t solely about finding new business. It’s also about gaining some solidarity from new found relationships now that you’re flying solo. In the same way as we like to ask friends and family for referrals to builders, decorators, plumbers and electricians, this network will provide invaluable advice when it comes to reliable business services provided by others. Accountants, HR Specialists, PR experts, Marketing Professionals - all these ancillary services will be provided by someone who can help you build your business so that you can focus on your specialist area, and what better way to find those people than a peer referral?
- Remember what it is that you hate about networking and honour it. None of us like to feel like a cog in a wheel; we all like to feel valued, respected and that we belong. If we all approach networking events with that in mind, then, collectively, we raise the bar, and make networking a far more pleasant and enjoyable experience!
I hope that the above sheds some light on how to get the most out of your networking endeavours moving forward. Good luck out there, folks!