5 Things I’ve Learned About Face to Face Networking

When I started Spreadsheet Solutions in 2013, I had never done face to face networking before, and I was thrown in the deep end when I went to the first one. The first networking even was a bust, and at the time I couldn’t figure out why. After years of networking, I have learned so much about it, and now I see why I failed the first time. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

1. You’re not there to make sales, you’re there to build relationships.

I used to go rushing in, sales pitch at hand, trying to sell everyone a custom-made spreadsheet. That clearly didn’t work. You may come across someone who is desperate for your services or products, but usually, people don’t want to be sold to. People want to meet and get to know other people, then when they need what you do, they will come to you. We need to tell others what we do, that is what’s done at networking, but then chat about things you have in common. It seems like a waste of time, but when that person wants what you provide, they need to remember you.

2. If possible, let them talk first.

When you start a conversation with someone, if possible, let them talk first. I find this particularly useful at speed networking events. Why? For a few reasons. Firstly, it seems more polite. What you’re saying to them is that you’re more interested in what they do, than telling them what you do. Now this may not be true, but it does leave them feeling good about themselves. Also, they often feel more obliged to listen to what you have to say, if you have just listened to them. There is one other reason why I let people talk first, especially at speed networking events. My services are bespoke, I make spreadsheets specifically for my client’s needs. If I know what they do, it makes it easier for me to tailor what I say to them. The more you know about someone else, the easier it is to speak ‘their language’.

3. Don’t sell to people, get them to sell you.

You may need to read that again, it says sell you, not sell to you. When I first went networking, I saw a room full of potential clients, I now see a room full of people who could tell their clients about me. If there are 10 people in the room, and they each have 10 clients, would you rather have 10 potential clients or 100? Now I’m not saying that if you sell to someone they won’t refer you, but if you bombard them with sales pitch, they probably won’t. I would rather 10 people leave knowing what I do, understanding how a custom spreadsheet can help a business, and confident to tell others about it. Not everyone will buy from you, but everyone could potentially refer you. Also, the people they refer you to could also refer you, so a referral is better than just a sale. I try to leave a conversation knowing that they know me, they understand what I do, and that they will think of me when they next speak to someone who needs my services. This is a very different approach to just trying to make a sale.

4. Networking is not a quick fix.

I used to try and go to as many different networking events as possible. The more new ones I went to, the more people I would meet, which meant more sales. Right? No. I found that I only started to get traction once I had been to the same event a few times. When I started to see people more than once, conversations started, and then the sales came in. This probably comes down to points 1 and 3, but you need to network at the same events regularly, to see results. People often leave networking until they are desperate, or go as soon as they start their business, hoping that it will bring in some quick sales. It may, but it usually doesn’t. You may be in for the long haul, so make yourself comfortable.

5. There are different kinds of networking, they all need a different approach for success.

Not all networking events are the same, and depending on their format, you will need a different approach. All of these types have pros and cons, but you need to approach each one to get the most out. For example, I attend three different kinds of networking events. The first is speed networking. Here you only have two minutes, so forget about trying to chat about the football, just give a sales pitch. Go second so you know what to say, keep your pitch relevant, but this is really about getting your point across. If you meet someone interesting, meet them for a coffee and get to know them. The second type is an informal, meet a room full of people over a coffee, once a month. This means that you can now start to get to know people. Yes, tell them what you do, but generally just chat to them. People will buy from people who they know, not just sales reps. The third one is the one where you meet once a week over a breakfast. If you’re meeting the same people each week, you don’t actually need to talk about what you do (unless you have a one minute pitch). This is all about building relationships. These people know what you do, build the relationship, don’t worry about selling. That will come.

So those are some of the things I have leaned about networking over the years. What have you learned? What do you do differently now, compared to when you first started networking?

If you would like to come along to some of the networking events which I attend, take a look at these networking options. I also have a free Networking Referral Database made in Excel (what a surprise!) for you to download.

Happy networking!

Richard