Agnes Lo, Founder and Chief Trainer of Solution Bulb Training Consultancy Company, and strength-based Development Certified Coach and corporate trainer based in Hong Kong, shares tips on being more visible and accessible
Some people network at professional events with one sole purpose: They become “WiiFMs” – thinking “what’s in it for me?” They only want to meet people to see what they can get from them, and are “takers.” However, successful networking is actually about building relationships, not taking or selling.
To use an analogy from Dr. Ivan Misner, called “the father of modern networking” by news channel CNN, and Founder of Business Networking International (BNI), networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about developing relationships with other business professionals.
Indeed, when I first established my training consultancy in 2017, my first-year clients were all from the seeds I had planted through networking, with some from years ago.
Networking is cited as the no. 1 way to get a job;
In the current job market, 80-90 percent of people are hired through networking;
Many companies offer incentives to their staff if they successfully refer a prospective employee; and
Finally, you never know who you will meet at a networking event – that person may be your future business partner or even your future spouse.
Networking is about connection
The focus of your networking should be on making solid connections – this is more productive than superficially meeting everyone in the room. Quality trumps quantity.
We need to open up in our conversations to make meaningful connections. The more open we are, the more people will be drawn to us because we are being authentic. When you share something personal, it gives your listener the permission to do the same.
When asked “What do you do?” most people answer by stating something vague and superficial – “Oh I’m in finance.” Try this: “Thank you for asking. I help people prepare for a worry-free retirement by managing their assets. Did you know that most people don’t plan for retirement? People are living much longer and a solid retirement plan is essential.”
Sharing a little bit more makes you more memorable, and leads to a more interesting conversation.
Networking is about cultivating relationships
It takes time to build the trust needed to enable a relationship grow. Networking is not about collecting business cards, and there is no value in storing business cards until you need to contact the other party for a specific purpose. It is important to manage your online network to maintain visibility and develop credibility with your network.
It’s important to know why you are networking. Sometimes you go to an event to increase your visibility, and sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know. You may even go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business.
Always come from a place of giving to others without an expectation of a pay- off. Remain authentic and have the other person’s best interests at heart. In doing so, others will feel you are trustworthy when you refer business to them, and in return they will help you and your business. Build upon that good networking karma, and the universe will pay it back abundantly.
Have a networking plan
Before you go to an event, don’t think about it as “networking.” Think about it as relationship building. Have a positive attitude and you will give out positive vibes. It will impact others and you can expect a hugely positive result. Don’t waste your time at events you are not interested in. Instead, follow these key points:
- Google the host of the event before you meet them. Find out what they are interested in from their background;
- Nail your 30-second and two-minute elevator pitches in advance and rehearse well;
- Dress for the occasion;
- Network-up, i.e. connect with people who are more successful than you are;
- Look outside your own industry and comfort zone; and
- Be engaging and add value to others.
Organizing your contacts
When I get home after an event, I organize the business cards of contacts and categorize them. For some I will make some notes based on our conversation. I will also note what events they may like to attend, so if anything comes up I can contact them.
I then think about any early referrals I can give to this person – which of my many contacts may need his or her services? I then follow up immediately. Live by the mantra that “giving comes first,” and a good follow-up can open up a world of opportunities.
Networking success requires you to be proactive. As Dr. Misner said, “First, you have to be visible in the community. You have to get out there and connect with people. It’s not called net-sitting or net- eating. It’s called networking. You have to work at it.”
How to broaden your network
Here are key ways to broaden your network:
- Speak at events;
- Volunteer to help organize an event;
- Host an event;
- Join conferences, seminars, and classes (that interest you, of course);
- Join a local BNI chapter;
- Join Toastmasters;
- Join a hobby clubs (such as hiking or reading); and
- Be active on social media – post content to get likes, shares and follows.