You know the importance of networking for your virtual assistant business. You want to get out there, whether it’s online or off, and mingle. You want to establish relationships to solidify that ever-popular know, like and trust factor so that people will hire you and pay you for your awesome services.
One very common way of networking is to attend local events where you can rub elbows with colleagues and those in your target market. Here’s a little story about what happened to me when I attended my very first networking event so that you can learn what NOT to do.
Before working online, I was a manager at a printing company. I was sent to a local Chamber of Commerce mixer in the hopes of networking with some local businesses that could be potential clients. To be honest with you, when I went to this event I really had no clue how I should handle myself. I was eager to meet some new faces and potentially get more business for our printing company but I had never done this before.
When I first arrived, I was a bit intimidated so I stood for a while and chatted with the two people I already knew at the mixer. Realizing that I was never going to meet anyone new that way, I mustered up some courage and walked right up to two people that I didn’t know who were having a conversation. I totally interrupted them and blurted out, “Hi, I’m Alicia from XYZ Company! We specialize in blah, blah, blah. If you ever need any printing, just give me a call.” Then I shoved my business card in their hands and asked for theirs.
I went around the room and repeated this same pattern about four more times. I was pretty impressed with myself at the end of the day having given out all of my business cards and getting cards from all of these “potential new leads.” I waited about two days after the event and then wrote a personal note to each person whose business card I had received telling them that it was a pleasure to meet them and asking them to call me for their printing needs.
I popped the notes in the mail and waited impatiently for the phone to ring with fabulous orders from all of my newfound friends. And I waited…and I waited. I was so disappointed when I didn’t hear from any of the people from the Chamber mixer.
Great idea, huh? Can you spot the things that I did wrong? Nowadays, I do more of my networking online but there are still some basic rules that apply. Let’s go back through the story and see what I should have done differently.
I really didn’t have a plan walking into that first event except for trying to hand out as many business cards as possible and receiving as many as I could in return. First and foremost, when attending a networking event, you should have a plan of what you’d like to achieve. Is it to make connections with colleagues? Is it to get new leads? Is it to search for potential team members or partners? Having a plan of what you’d like to accomplish at a networking event will help you keep your end goal in mind.
It doesn’t have to be a huge, intimidating goal and it shouldn’t always be focused around making sales. You don’t need to meet everyone in the room. Give yourself a goal of having a really good conversation with two or three people. It’s quality over quantity.
Remember when I said I just walked right up to two people engaged in a conversation and completely interrupted them? Not the best tactic. Look for natural ways to jump into a discussion that’s taking place or walk up to someone standing alone like you are. Chances are that person standing against the wall doesn’t know anyone either and is as nervous as you are about this whole networking thing.
As you can tell from my story, I decided to totally skip the conversation piece. I just went right into my pitch. This is probably what the other people heard when I was talking: “Me, me, me. Buy my stuff.” You’d give me your business after that, right? Sure you would. 😉
You can liken business networking conversations to dating conversations. When you meet someone for the first time in the dating world you don’t say, “Let me tell you all of the great things about me. Now, do you wanna get married?” The other person would probably run screaming!
Instead, you get to know them. You ask them questions to find out their likes, dislikes and what makes them tick. Then you go on a couple of dates, meet their parents, get engaged and all of that stuff. My point is that building the relationship is a process.
Building relationships with clients is the same thing. It’s not about you. You want to get to know them. A great idea is to start with some non-business conversation about things that you might have in common, like your kids, where you live, pets or favorite sports teams. Then you want to learn what they need and how you can help them solve a problem. Be helpful and genuine, not pushy. All of this is not going to happen during that first meeting at a networking event but you are laying the foundation of the business relationship.
The Follow Up
This is an important step that people often miss after a networking event. My idea to send personal notes to the people that I met was on the right track. It’s just that I had not established any kind of relationship with them so there was a missing connection. After the event, think of something in particular that you may have talked about with someone and drop them a note. Let them know that you’d like to stay in touch. Include a call to action. For example, you could ask them to connect with you perhaps via your favorite social media channel.
I hope my little story of the Chamber event gone wrong helped you to avoid some of these mistakes. If this type of networking still makes your knees shake and your hands sweat, you can always reach out to a professional. There are networking coaches out there like my good friend Carol Deckert at Contacts to Connections who will teach you the ropes and get you out there having fabulous conversations in no time!
Do you have a networking nightmare to share? Leave it in the comments. Any other pointers for networking best practices? Leave those in the comments, too.