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Networking is a Contact Sport

Are you one of those people who hear the words ‘networking event’ and cringes?

Does it scare you, do you find it ineffective or are you just not recognizing it as the most valuable tool for creating referrals and leads? I admit I’ve been to my fair share of networking events when, upon arriving, a stranger has thrust their business card in my face without even qualifying whether I want it, or they want to business with me. Thankfully there are many people out there who are doing it right. They’re using the ‘Butterfly Effect’ to really make an incredible network they can tap into and serve at a moment’s notice.

Why is networking like a pro so important?
Last week I got to speak with Ivan Misner, Ph.D., author of Networking Like a Pro. He’d recently run a survey of over 12,000 people and ninety-one percent said networking is important for business. Yet he felt people still weren’t doing it well. It’s not taught in universities, nor do they teach sales or closing techniques. And yet your network is your net-worth. Here are my key takeaways from his session.

Use the Butterfly Effect
Simply put it’s this: You never know where your contacts will take you. Eisner recommended we have a personal vision of where we want to go. Then network with people to get you there. I liked his view on networking: It’s like farming, not hunting. In my words it takes time to plant the seeds and grow them before you can harvest them. It’s all about building relationships for referrals. In fact it’s about VCP or Visibility -> Credibility -> Profitability

The ROI of networking
A really great point made was that “If your clients aren’t referring you then you’re not profitable.” It may seem like a bold statement but you’re certainly not setting yourself up for a sustainable business model if you’re constantly in search of new business. One thing I’ve known since I was in diapers (or a little later than that) is that: Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing.

The cost of acquiring a new customer is almost always more than up selling an existing one, or getting their repeat business. It takes time to build confidence I’m a visual person so when a chart was put up on the screen of how long it takes certain businesses to build confidence it definitely got me thinking. If you’re a florist, for example, it’s a relatively short time period before people trust you. They buy a bouquet of flowers from you, they like what they get for the price so they’ll likely come back. If you’re a printer and you serve a client well for a few print jobs you’ve likely got yourself a repeat customer. But if you’re an investment adviser, it takes even longer—and clearly a lot more is at stake.

What Networking Type Are You?
Do you have to be an extrovert to be a great networker? Definitely not. Both can be great at networking and here’s why. Introverts are great at listening to people which is exactly what’s needed when someone’s introducing themselves to you. What you need to do more of is meeting more people and putting yourself out there. It’s not that scary. Extroverts are great at meeting people and putting out their ideas. You could do with being a better listener.

Eisner, in fact, calls himself an introvert even though he’s a professional speaker and started the world’s largest networking group—the BNI Network. He described himself as a situational extrovert (I am too), in that he comes out of his shell during the right situations. So have faith, anyone can be a great networker.

Here’s how:
Step 1: Open up I mean when you’re at a networking event stand in open twos or threes so that other people feel they can join the conversation, don’t close your group off.
Step 2: Look the part Appearance does matter. Perception is reality. People judge you from what you look like twelve feet away, so dress professional. They also judge you from twelve inches away: how do you sound, if you have a positive attitude and what the first twelve words out of your mouth are.
Step 3: Create intrigue Have your Unique Value Proposition at hand. Don’t start with an elevator pitch, but do say what you do. Your UVP that gets people to ask more questions. For example, “I’m an accountant and I’ve developed a unique way of saving my clients twenty percent year on year.” People will ask, “Really? Tell me how.”

The Four Streams of Networking
There are numerous ways to get out and network. These are the main four streams:
1. Casual Contact: mixer events like a Chamber of Commerce or meetup—great for increasing visibility in your community
2. Knowledge: Professional associations—great for creating alliances
3. Strong Contact: One person per profession that meets weekly—e.g BNI
4. Online: Through forums and communities, Twitter and LinkedIn. Emphasis: Don’t forget the power of LinkedIn. It is the best online networking tool and you should learn how to use it properly.

Networking is a contact sport
You need to get out there and meet people. Just remember it’s a journey not a destination. The average person spends six and a half hours per week networking. There’s also a direct correlation between hours spent and referrals and profit. The more hours, the more profit.