Last week, I started to scratch the surface of networking to grow your business. Networking really is the easiest, and CHEAPEST way to spread the word about what you do and how your business can benefit other people. If you think about it, when you go to a networking event, you are literally spreading the word about yourself, and your business. Building relationships is the spark that ignites the word of mouth brushfire that you are looking to create. Many people who are just starting out don’t really understand what goes into networking and how to approach it. I’ll break down my approach that you can feel free to take and mold into an approach that better serves your purposes. I’m speaking from a photographer’s point of view, which might not be your point of view, so take what applies to you and modify what doesn’t. Let’s say you find a networking event that you plan to attend. What do you now?
Step 1: Prep Work
Make sure your business cards display all of your pertinent contact info and your portfolio (or whatever you use to showcase your product) is at it’s best. When people ask about your business, have a quick list of bulletpoints put together in your head that you can tell people to give them a high level, 30-45 second overview of what you do. Make sure you have somewhere to put the business cards that you’ll accumulate during the event. If possible, try to find out who else will be attending the event. On sites like MeetUp, there is a list of people who have RSVPed to the event. Review that list and take note of the types of businesses that will be represented at the event. Start to formulate a plan on the people you want to make it a point to meet. Set a goal for yourself to talk to a certain number of people to form those foundations. Plan on wearing something relatively business casual. A good rule of thumb on clothing is to wear something that you would wear to consult with a potential client for the first time.
Step 2: Go to the Event
Here is where you’ll have to work on being a people person. Remember, you are at the event to start the relationship building process. This means you will have to converse with complete strangers. If you’re already a people person, then jump right in and start talking to people. If not, it’s ok to hang back for a second to feel the room out and get acclimated to your surroundings. If there are beverages being served and a beverage helps you loosen up a bit, then have one. Now, let me be clear about something here. Have ONE or TWO. Again, this is about building relationships to help your business grow. Nobody wants to do business with that sloppy drunk guy from the networking event. Have a beverage to help loosen up the tension if needed, then get out there and find that first person to break the ice with. Make it easy of yourself. Chances are, you won’t be the only person there that’s a little apprehensive about meeting new people so find someone else in your shoes and slowly get the ball rolling. Don’t just hug the wall or hang out by the bar silently. Talk to people and ask questions about what they do. They’ll return those same questions to you. When they do, remember that you know your business so talk confidently about it. As you talk to more and more people, the process will become easier. Next thing you know, you’ve accumulated a few business cards and know of a few people that you could have a meaningful business relationship with.
If you’re a photographer, show people your work WHEN THEY ASK TO SEE IT. Don’t walk around cramming your portfolio down people’s throats. Nobody likes pushy people. As people get comfortable with you and as you talk confidently about what you do, people will naturally want to see what you’re all about. That’s when you show them your work. Ask to see their work as well. You may genuinely see something you really like.
Step 3: After the Event
This could possibly be the most important step when it comes to cultivating those seeds. You need to follow up with the people you meet. Don’t just “hope” that something will come of the time you spent at the networking event. MAKE something come of it. Call or email the people you spoke with and let them know that you enjoyed meeting them. Make reference to something you discussed at the event and ask them if they would like to do lunch or have some after-work beverages sometime. That is a sure fire way to make a lasting impression with people. It also gives them, and yourself, and opportunity to learn more. If you had a good conversation with that other person who was shy and pretty new to your industry, give them a call and set something up. Chances are, the seasoned veterans in your industry could be a little busier because they are more established so call up the other newbie and start building that beneficial relationship that helps you both grow. I would actually suggest that you make it a point to get to know the other up-and-comers in your industry. As you all grow at the same time, you can be resources for each other so when you get more established, you’ll have a solid group of peers. As you find yourself in situations where you’re already booked or can’t take a job, you can refer clients to one of them and they will do the same for you.
Networking really is a sure fire way to grow your business. The number of clients you book is directly related to the number of people who know you exist. You can’t expect business to increase if you aren’t doing anything to help increase the number of people who know you’re out there. If you’re not going to put yourself out there and form relationships, then networking is a complete waste of your time. Building those relationships takes time and effort. You may not even see the benefits for a year or so. When you do finally see it, you’ll be glad you put in the work.
As always, thanks for stopping by this week and spending a few minutes with me. I really hope this helps out. If you have and questions or comments, feel free to leave them here or you can reach me at Lekan@mtmphoto.com. See ya next week!