Networking…the dreaded N word. The mere thought of it connotes images after work events with guys in suits who work in large office towers shoving business cards in your face while aggressively trying to sell you their product or service, regardless if you need them or not. As photography business owners, we need to actively promote our services and reach out to new clients. With the plethora of photo related events in New York such as ASMP’s Commercial Portfolio Review on May 12, our Summer and Winter parties and the myriad of other events the community hosts and beyond, we have an extremely rich opportunity to meet new people and foster relationships with potential new clients. However, how many of us know how to truly network properly ?
I sat down with Tim Houston, networking guru and #1 International Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Trainer & Entrepreneur for some tips on how to take the guesswork out of networking and become more productive, profitable and prosperous.
Michelle: What is the best thing that people can do at a networking event or photography opening when they meet new people who could potentially turn into clients ?
Tim: I often teach people who hate to network (and even those who love it to) to remember to use ICE when it comes to networking. Introductions, Conversations and Engagement.
In brief, your introduction should make them want to know more about you. So I never say “I’m Tim Houston, three-time #1 international bestselling author, award winning speaker…” and go on and on with my credentials because at this point they don’t care about me and I’ll probably turn them off. Instead I say “Hi, I’m Tim Houston. I help make businesspeople more productive, profitable and prosperous.” Their response is usually “How do you do that?” and that gives me permission to talk a little more about myself. As photographers, think of what you can say that can serve as an introduction that creates curiosity. There comes a time when you need to stop talking and develop a real conversation with them. The conversation has to be more than just asking “So what do you do?” I ask questions like “So what made you get into your current profession?” or “What’s the one thing you absolutely love about your business?” “Is there anyone here in particular that you would like an introduction to?” Listen to what they say and take notes (mental and/or written).
Engagement happens not only during the networking but afterwards. The easiest form of post-event engagement is a simple follow-up. But remember to follow-up with people in the manner they prefer to communicate. It’s OK to ask, “I’d like to follow up with you after the event so what would be the best way to do that?” People not only will appreciate that you asked but also they will likely now expect to hear from you.
Michelle: What is the biggest mistake that you see people make at networking events ?
Tim: No one ever comes to a networking event to buy anything and yet people go out networking and will try to sell everyone within three feet of them on something. Networking and selling are two different and mutually exclusive events.
I define networking as “The creation of new relationships and the enhancement of existing ones through engagement, for the purpose of mutual business and personal development.” But because that sounds so academic, here’s how I break it down even simpler:
- You must be willing to meet new people.
- You must be willing to build an authentic, honest and true relationship with them.
- It’s all about finding ways to help them without immediately expecting anything in return for ourselves.
Selling happens well after the networking occurs when there’s a point in the relationship that you have built trust, respect and reliability in the eyes of a prospect.
Michelle: Why is face to face networking still important in the age of social media ?
Tim: Both face to face and social media are important, it’s not one over the other. You need to engage people in reality and virtually. Face to face is important because people like to do business with those they know, like, admire, respect and trust and there’s nothing like meeting people.
Social networking has a similar effect, and can be a great multiplier of that effect since you can reach more people online than in person. What you need to remember is to be more than just a “profile” online; in other words, you need to engage people just as you would in real life. When it comes to online networking, you need to know the rules of each online venue. For example, on LinkedIn, since it’s more business-focused, it’s not considered acceptable to talk and write about your favorite movie, sports teams, what you did today, etc. whereas on Facebook, that’s expected and very acceptable.
We live in a world that is so connected through technology, yet many people are seemingly so disconnected when it comes to creating and enhancing relationships. In my books, seminars and keynote addresses on networking, I often cite a 2009 Harvard Business Review study which surveyed 2200 of their subscribers. 95% of them believed that face to face meetings are the key to success in building business relationships and 87% agreed that face-to-face meetings are essential to “sealing the deal”.
Michelle: How do we get the most out of trade shows and discern the real prospects from the people who are just there to collect business cards ?
Immediately follow-up with everyone within 24-48 hours of the trade show! It should be common sense then that one should follow up with the prospect almost immediately, and yet, there are many experienced people and long-time businesses that don’t. Salesforce.com did a study of trade show exhibitors which found that 85% of the exhibitors did not follow up in any manner. Of the 15% that did follow up, 77% did within three weeks. By that time, most of the people forget who you are, what you do and chances are, you forget them as well. The card-collectors (one of types I feature in my book, The World’s Worst Networker) will be there no matter what but when you follow-up immediately, you’re better able to gauge if the person is a serious prospect or just a serial information seeker. Sometimes, you’ll be surprised that you may get hired or referred by someone just because you followed up so quickly.
Michelle: What is the single best thing that people can do to promote their business, in your opinion?
Tim: Regardless of the type of business you’re in, you need to have a referral marketing system in place. In my book Leads to Referrals I detail an actual, simple referral system used by a photographer in St. Louis to increase the amount of referrals that he gets each year from various vendors to the point where, in 2013, 67% came from client and vendor referrals and only 33% from all other forms of advertising.
Too often, people rely a lot on word-of-mouth which is unpredictable and passive because it relies on other people talking about you. While word-of-mouth works and networking is vital to your business, a referral marketing system is active, predictable and controllable to get a desired end-result.
Think about setting up a system that can work for your business that can utilize the various resources and people in your networks. Also, keep networking, online and offline, with a goal of building new relationships and enhancing existing ones.
Thanks Tim! Try some of these tips at the next event you go to and please comment on this post to let us know how they worked for you. If you would like to read further on the art of networking, see all of Tim’s books at books at http://amzn.to/1lKcAww or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.