Networking is a fundamental skill in business. No doubt about it. It can make presidents, and form the foundation for high profile industry experts.
When someone meets you in person, they can learn so much more about you, than if they spoke to you on the phone or saw you online. They see how you really look, dress and sound like.
They get to see your authenticity (or lack of it). It becomes a rare opportunity in today’s world to connect with you on a personal level. It could save you months or years of cold calling, e-mailing or bugging receptionists to give you 5 minutes with the leader in your field that you want to partner with.
Most people are predominantly visual (approximate 55%) and communication is approximately 70% body language, so networking can become a great asset in acquiring clients, new business partners or new investors if done well. If done poorly, it can even harm your chances at having a good business.
So what is networking actually? It is defined by the Oxford Dictory as ‘interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. Business networking can happen at business conferences, meeting, parties and social gathering, even family occasions.
I’m particulary interested in networking in the healthcare and wellness sector as here is where I am most experienced and wish to help others. To be truthful, networking in this sector is very similar other industries. This is true particularly when it comes to major health, wellbeing or medical conferences.
Just like other industries I’ve worked in such as film & media, technology companies, internet marketing as well as the range of health, medical, pharmaceutical events, the dynamics in networking events are very similar.
You always have the “old guard” the people that have ‘made it’, who have been in the industry for years and hang together in a clique. They are often organisers or attendees at these functions. Some of the old guard enjoy meeting and teaching the ‘newbies’.
The ‘newbies’ are the brand new entrants into the industry, and have only been in it for under 3 years. Some are bright and shiny eyed, eager to meet the ‘old guard’, while others are much more shy, stand in a corner and wait until someone comes to speak to them. One wonders if their boss forced them to be there.
Then there’s the ‘upcomers’. These are the younger, smarter ones that have innovative new ways of doing things and have hit some home runs in their industry, early in their career. They are often admired by some of the “old guard” and are the select few outside the ‘old guard’ that are invited speak at the major industry conferences.
There are also the ‘stalwarts’ who are those who have been in the industry for a reasonable period of time, often over 5 to 10 years and have decent stable businesses with recurring revenue, but tend not to make too much of a fuss. They are content in their position and help others when possible.
These titles I have just mentioned are not in any textbook, rather they come from years of observations having attended many a conference in many different industries.
What I’ve realised is that it really doesn’t matter which category they sit in, or which category you think you sit in, there are 5 major tips you absolutely must learn about networking so you can get your health or wellness business flying, through the art and skill of networking:
1. Pick your event strategically
When you are starting out in your career, it is a good idea to go to as many events as possible to get a “lay of the land”. You will get to figure out which events you like, have people that you most resonate with, offer great content or allow for effective networking. It also helps build your profile and get yourself know in the industry.
When you get to a stage like me, where you have a few more years under your belt, I tend to know have a select list of events that I go to where I know I will get the maximum opportunity for my business, either through the people that I meet or the content that I receive.
These days, meeting people is far more valuable than the content, as a lot of content is now available online. Having said that, our time is finite. We have to spend it very wisely at networking events that are more likely to make a positive difference to our work.
2. Set a clear objective beforehand
When you attend an event, set an objective of what you want to get out of it and specifically who you want to meet. Get your mindset right, that you are NOT GOING HOME, until you meet the person you want to meet. Practise what you are going to say before you meet them.
I’ve had past employees that I have sent to events with a specific instruction to meet someone. They came back and said they met them, but the speaker was too busy to talk and they couldn’t get near them or excuse, excuse, excuse.
In this situations, my employee had unfortunately self-defeat within her own mindset before she had even got there. This is why it is so important to not only set the objective, but BELIEVE you can do it.
I’ve managed to get to some world leaders in their field, at major conferences, by being patient, waiting for the right time, setting my mindset with absolute determination and not taking no for an answer. I once queued up in line to meet Deepak Chopra, a world leading author in Mind-Body Medicine and Organisational Wellbeing, areas I am very passionate about.
There were over 2000 people wanting to meet him, the book signing queue had over 200 people and I had 15 seconds to get my book signed. I still managed to get him to give me his business card, because I did my research, was persistent and was absolutely determined despite the odds. You can too!
So set the intention of who you want to meet, summon up your courage and prepare a few lines of introduction – then just make it happen. You will be pleasantly surprised at the result.
3. It’s not about numbers, it’s about genuine relationships
The worst form of networking I’ve seen is the “grasshopper”. The “grasshopper” is the person who spends 2 minutes with each person they meet, introduces themselves and their work, exchanges business cards and asks for the people to call them. To them, networking is a numbers game and it works poorly when treated that wau.
Networking is about developing genuine relationships. You may not work with them immediately, but over time, that relationship may evolve into very strong financial ties. Sometimes though, you may get a new client straight away!
When meeting someone for the first time, rather than pitch yourself, you may quickly say who you are, what you do and why you are interested in their work. And then, JUST LISTEN. Allow them to speak and respond accordingly.
I see so many people blurt out what they do, why they do it, their annual income, all in one go, without even knowing if the other person is vaguely interested. Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is excellent for developing this skill of relationship building.
4. Have a professional business card and website
It still amazes me how many people still do not carry a business card. Whilst the reality is that this may be industry dependent (a lot of people in internet marketing do not carry business cards as the have a high online presence). However in the area of healthcare and wellness, I would say having a business card is a must, particularly as it is a more conservative industry.
Potential clients and partners are often very keen to “check you out online” before doing business with you. They also want an easy way to look for your details and after a big conference, they could be a multitude of people to connect with and one of them could be you!
Having a business card in the wallet or purse, makes it so much easier. Having a credible online presence i.e. website or Linkedin profile, helps convert them into a more realistic business opportunity. This has taken me years to get right, but has been well worth the investment in time.
It’s important to design your card well and professionally as it is a reflection of your identity. Simplicity works – I would recommend at least full name, e-mail address, direct phone number and name plus logo of business on the card.
If you have a poor memory, you may write details of the person, such as their description or where you met them on their business card, so you can refer to it later and remember the person. However I advise not to do this in front of them or in public as it can be rude in some cultures to mark a person business card.
In Asian cultures, you should also give AND receive business cards with two hands, thumbs facing the person.
5. Success is in the follow up
Don’t expect anyone to call you, especially if you are relatively new to the industry.
Success really is in the follow up process and you should take it upon yourself to make contact the next day with the person you met. If you do not feel you may do business with them today, it’s good to just drop them a call afterward or an e-mil as they may know someone else that could use your services. It is also worth reminding them of something you talked about at the conversation.
If you have personal or business database and you send out high value personal newsletters, it is wise to ask them for permission if they would like to be added to your database. As long as you are not sending them promotional information on a regular basis , they might appreciate this and it keeps them in your communication loop long term.
And health and wellbeing is a lifelong game!