Networking isn’t something that everyone feels comfortable doing, especially when it’s intended as a client seeking strategy. Approaching strangers with the intention of starting a conversation, especially when it’s aimed towards finding a new, awesome, fabulous, “this is the client of clients”, can be awkward at best. Yet, in the scope of things, it’s not the hardest part of networking.
Finding people to network with, that aren’t part of your normal network, can be a daunting task. Many virtual assistants feel that it’s difficult to identify good networking partners, and this can be a large deterrent for them. As an industry, we tend to also migrate more to the side of introverts on the scale .. and networking is such a dirty word.
Mantra: It’s not networking – it’s all about making relationships.
The benefits of networking
When people comment on the importance of “who you know” they are partially right. There are many opportunities that never make it to the light of day. Many professionals prefer to reduce their risk by contracting someone that has been referred to them via their own network.
It’s important to always use your network as a client seeking strategy. Who should you consider part of your network? Anyone that you have worked with or studied with is a good place to start and anyone you know from your community can be a potential candidate. Friends and family are obvious choices, but don’t forget about people one step out from your obvious network, like vendors.
Anyone familiar with your work and your skills, or even people with common interests, are good candidates. Having them as your advocates can reduce the need to cold call and approach unwilling potential clients.
The need to have a clear plan
Once you’ve made your introductions and gotten some face time with potential networking partners, you need to present the right impression, or they will walk away thinking they have wasted their time. Many don’t go into networking meetings with a plan and this leads to not getting referrals or leads. Having a plan and clear goals will help ensure that you’re taken seriously.
Make sure you have done some good research and are prepared for any conversation. You should have a concise answer for every question. Networking is about communication and you need to be able to engage in interesting, beneficial conversation.
A few ways of making yourself a better networker
If you’re uncomfortable with networking and feel under-confident, it shows. Consider using some of these tips to make yourself look and feel like a natural.
Keep being useful. Always be proactive and offer to help your network, attend meetings, or participate in surveys. Be available and have time for your contacts, and not just when you need something. Calling on them only when you need a job doesn’t give them a lot of motivation to help you.
Keep on searching. Always look for new contacts and don’t keep your focus only on a single avenue of search. Online networking and social networks are a great place to find new people but these people haven’t had the benefit of meeting you in person. Live events will always have their place in networking, so you should find some associated to your industry.
Target specifically. If you want to connect with a specific company, make sure that you’re an attractive contact to them. Demonstrate to them the exact experience you know they want to see and the skills that you know they would want in their company.
Target names. If you begin a conversation using your referrals name, those people will connect with you faster. It will also set the scene for being able to request the names of other contacts within their company.
Confidence through practice
The more you practice networking, the more confident you will feel when you’re at these events. If you want to ease yourself in and get warmed up, show up early and have small conversations with people while the group is still growing. This will give you an indication of what conversations you can expect and the type of people that you’re going to be talking to for the rest of the event.
The most important idea to take on board is making yourself valuable. Giving someone the time to have a conversation with you will lead to more. If you keep practicing at the right type of events, and go in with a clear strategy, you’ll be guaranteed to get client leads.
About Out of the Office Virtual Assistance:
At Out of the Office, we offer ideas and ways to increase your productivity, decrease your workload, and work more efficiently. We nurture a successful business relationship, while continuing to grow as your business partner. We are focused on streamlining your administration, social media planning and execution, and offering creative solutions for your business success.
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