A to Z of Business Storytelling: Network Like a Boss
When I first started networking for Verano, visions of business men in ties schmoozing over cocktails danced in my head. I was not excited about it, but I knew I had to start putting myself out there if I ever wanted to get paying clients, so...I sucked it up and prepared myself for the world of sticky white name tags.
My first handful of networking events were exactly what I expected them to be: lots of people in direct sales who would "love to meet me for coffee to learn a little more." I wasn't thrilled about the meetings, but I also didn't have a lot of work at the time, so I filled up my days getting out into the community and meeting with anyone who would have me. Looking back on my first two (maybe three) years of business, all I can remember is going from coffee meetings to lunches to happy hours to home, and then doing it all over again.
Those days were exhausting, but I learned A LOT about networking, and, with time and some improvements in my own sales process, I started to get business out of the meetings. Those days of networking all day and doing work at night eventually did lead me to a few key lessons.
Here's what two years of nonstop networking taught me about how to network like a boss:
Create a strong business pitch--and then change it. My first several months of networking were not productive. I never knew exactly how to describe the work I was offering to people (writing? editing?) and who I wanted to connect with (bankers? small business owners? agencies?). I would stress about my pitches, and then I wasn't actually listening to the other people...more just planning my own turn in the conversation. That meant my meetings were often fruitless: I wasn't able to offer a great value proposition to the people I was with, and they walked away not sure about what I did. So I created a business pitch, and I stuck to it for several months. When I started to find my groove with one, I would change it slightly depending on the audience I was talking to or the business they were in. I definitely didn't own it overnight, but I learned about how to read the audience I was talking to and delivering a much more interesting and engaging description of me and my business. [Need help with your business pitch? Check out our blogs on Developing a Great Business Pitch.]
Be consistent. After flitting from one networking event to another around town, I realized I was wearing myself out talking to new people all day long. When I looked back at my clients and tracked my sales process, I realized that it took a couple of conversations until a prospective client would "bite" and ask for a proposal. Once I figured that out, I started to be consistently present at the same networking events with the same people. I even joined several networking organizations that meet regularly--some weekly, others monthly or quarterly--so I could have exposure to the same people again and again. Being regularly and consistently in front of the same audience closed my sales process by several months or weeks as people got to know me and Verano better and in a shorter amount of time.
Preserve your energy with intentional networking. Networking all day every day is exhausting, even for the most social of us. By the time I got home at night, I had little energy (and zero creative energy) to actually work on the clients I was getting. And by Friday...I hardly wanted to talk to people I loved, not to mention another business owner. So I started to be intentional about the events I attended, and I let go of the need to stay for hours on end. If there's a happy hour or an open-ended networking event, I set a goal of exchanging business cards with five very solid leads. For me, that meant people who legitimately seemed interested in my services. Once I had those five business cards in my hand, I would leave. Sure, it means that I may have missed out on other opportunities, but I decided to be okay with that. By limited the number of hours I spent at events and the number of business cards I collected, I had much more energy and ability to do meaningful follow up with those leads--and it turned into a great book of business.
Keep networking. Some people hate networking, and I get it. Bad networking events can be awkward, unproductive, and tiring. But great networking events are exceptional ways to grow your business and get to know people in all types of industries and positions. Networking is obviously not the only way to market your business, but for Verano, it has by far been the most effective. Today, each Verano team member networks, and I still attend weekly and monthly networking meetings to nurture great relationships.
In the end, networking can take time to result in a good sales funnel...but don't let that intimidate you! Networking is a very powerful, personal way to market your business. Get out there and network like a boss!