When I was appointed to a recent role, one of the comments given about me was that I was a “ferocious networker”. I could not decide if that was a double edged compliment at the time.
But, after a while, I came to see that as quite a good accolade. Because, as the Chair of two businesses and a charity, and also with my own consultancy business, the art of networking is quite important to whether I am successful in business.
So, I thought it might be useful to share a few thoughts on my approach to meeting people, especially for the first time, whether in person or remotely, and to advise how I might try to sell myself or my services.
Let me know what you think – how do you network and what do you think of my comments?
How to start and continue a conversation
You can only sell yourself or your services once you have got into a conversation in the first place.
So, you need the confidence to approach somebody if you do not know them. A simple and confident introduction is the key to this. Once you have mutually introduced yourselves that is when you need to be able to start and maintain a conversation.
It’s Not About You
Never just barge into a conversation and start selling yourself. It is a real off- putter.
Instead, realise that most people much prefer to speak about themselves. Admit it- you do too.
Most people are most comfortable when they can talk about themselves. So, give them the chance to do so.
Ask them about themselves. What do they do? What brings them here? What is their business?
Be interested in them and what they do. Ask follow up questions. Listen carefully to what they say. Probe them for more detail and explore if an opening can be created.
What you are trying to do is gain intelligence and information that you could use to adapt your own “pitch” to suit the other person.
It’s All About..Them
There will come the point when you can talk about yourself. But here is where you must go against your natural instinct. For you need to talk less about what you do and more about what you could do to help them or how you could interest them.
While listening to them , you should be listening out for hints about what their challenges and problems are, and thinking whether you might be in a position to help them.
Always be thinking of, and prepared to talk about, what you might be able to do to help them.
Your Personal “Elevator Pitch”
It helps if you have a simple “elevator pitch” to describe yourself and what you do. This is effectively “management speak” for a simple of way of describing yourself and selling yourself.
It is the answer to the question, that will inevitably come, of “what do you do”?
It should be short, sharp and descriptive. It should tell a story in as few words as possible about your business. It should be two sentences at most.
Try and avoid any need for them to guess, do not use euphemisms and management speak.
And, if you have been listening to what they have been saying to you, you should adapt your “elevator pitch” , so that it appears to be tailored and adapted to what they need or might find useful.
If you think you might be able to help them, then say simply how you can.
If they “bite” on this elevator pitch, then you have the basis for a conversation that allows you to explore in detail whether there is the possibility of doing some business together.
Networking in a Remote World
I believe the same principles apply to remote or online networking as to in person. You need to make more of an effort to find people online, on networks such as Linkedin.
I am not a fan of those people who dive straight in on LinkedIn with a sales pitch of their services. Invariably, those who do this, having made no effort to find out if you need their services, have limited success. Coming straight out and selling is highly unlikely to be successful.
I have personal experience that going straight in with a sales or elevator pitch does not work.
The same principles apply as I set out earlier. You should still try to express interest in and try to find out about the other person and their business.
How to introduce your “Elevator Pitch” in an online environment
In an online environment, you may need to introduce your elevator pitch earlier in the process, as of course, you do not have the scope for “getting to know you” chat.
You may need to introduce your elevator pitch in your introductory E mail or your LinkedIn Connection Request. But, it is even more important that it is adapted and tailored to them and does not look like a specific pitch for business. This is likely to be rejected.
The first invitation to connect should be about both them and you.
So, for example, I have in the past used this formulation- “I am the Chair of the RFL, and I am looking to connect with other leaders like you in the sport and leisure industry”. Or “We were both at the same conference recently, and I am looking to connect with others who were there”.
Give an opening that shows that it is worth their while being connected to you.
Again, it remains important to show somebody that you wish to connect with that you are interested in them.
So, look to congratulate someone on a new role. Comment warmly on a post they have made specially if it news or an achievement for their business. Comment on something that they have done and share an opinion.
Do this before you go in with an elevator pitch. You are trying to demonstrate mutual interest.
If they engage with you, then you can bang in a tailored, adapted elevator pitch, that is always focussed on what specifically you can do for them. And they ought to respond positively to that if you have spent enough time engaging in advance.
Networking is not to be feared. It is all about listening and about showing how you can be of interest to the other person- how you could help them.
Networking is not all about you. It is all about the other person.
If you have that approach, you will enjoy much more success.
And, if you are interested in some mentoring support or you know somebody who might benefit from mentoring support, I would be happy to help you. I mentor a number of clients looking to improve their business skills or develop their careers. Below is a quote from a young professional that I recently mentored.
Please get in touch if I can help.
Over the course of a year, Simon provided mentorship for me in personal and professional development. From public speaking training to providing me with tailored and bespoke support in tackling complex strategic issues, Simon regularly gave invaluable advice and insight on issues to empower me to overcome them. I am a more improved person thanks to Simon’s dedicated mentorship and would recommend his services to anyone looking for a kind, compassionate, and adept mentor.