Business networking for Business Development is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.
Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For Business Development the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.
Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.
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It is how as a Business Development we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.
Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.
Networking may not be enjoyable to some people but we can always make it fun and profitable for businesses. The following are just some of my tips to share with you how you can get the most out of your next networking session:
1. Know the location -It helps to know where the event is going to be held beforehand. It is both frustrating and embarrassing to appear in the wrong place and keep calling the host who is busy talking to his / her guest.
2. Always arrive early - If you can follow this, you will make it as a top networker in no time. I always respect people who turn up not only on time, but well before the event starts. Arriving early is not only for show, you can have a great opportunity by connecting with the host and guest speakers (if any).
3. Bring more name cards -Bringing more name cards can make a difference at times. In a professional business event, it is embarrassing to tell people that you run out of name cards. If the event is expecting 100 people, bring 150 name cards. You will need them for something you will not expect - lucky draws, subscriptions and unexpected turnouts etc.
4. Get to know the host - Most networking events are hosted by certain organization and associations, part of the reason to arrive early is also to have time to talk to the host and tell them what you do (if this is the first meetup). As a host, we respect people who turn up early. This is also an excellent time asking the host if they know of someone who can help or work hand in hand with your business.
5. Find out who will be attending the event - This works if you have a way to know who will be attending the event. If the event is displayed via Facebook or Meetup.com, then you will be able to know who may be attending (via the guest list). After you know who will be attending, spend some time going through their websites and prepare some small talk topic when you meet them. You may even find a common interest between you and the person that will be attending the event =)
6. Prepare your 10 seconds 'what you do' pitch - To be honest, no one is interested in what you do in most networking events. If you fail to impress people during the initial 10 seconds of interaction, you will have to work harder to make yourself memorable. One tip I have here is to stress on the benefit when people ask 'What you do for a living?'. If you are an Accountant, don't reply saying that you are an accountant, just mention that you help businesses to cut down as much as 20% (or some statistics that is realistic) of their costs. An Entrepreneur with common sense will be eager to hear more and ask you how they can do that!
7. It is better to overdress - If you can't figure out the dress code for the event, just dress formally. It won't hurt by overdressing in most events. Appearing in formal dress code also signifies that you respect the host and VIPs of the event. Overdress will also make you memorable for most people especially the host.
8. Advertising Zone? - It is also important to ask the organizer if there is any way to share the benefits that your business will bring to the attendees on the event. Some business networking events will have some sort of 'Advertising Zone' that allows you to place your marketing materials for exposure. Some even have business booth.
9. Identifying the top 3 trades you need - Most businesses cannot survive on their own without forming alliances with leads flowing from one to another. For example, Corporate Services Provider works pretty well with Web Designers, IT Support Companies and Accountants. You need to place the top 3 trades that you are looking for on top of your mind at all times. Doing so will make it easier for you to connect with someone who is in the trade that you are looking for on any networking event.
10. Find out and participate in the event theme - Some monthly or Bi-monthly events do organize networking themes at times. For example, an event may request everyone to turn up with red-white theme in the month of Aug (Singapore National Day). Have fun and participate in the theme for the event. Participating in the theme also show that you are giving support to the host or organizer.
Sounds easy? Try them out in your next networking opportunity!
Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.
Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.
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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.
A company's finance director or CFO has always played a key role in the growth of the business in China. Aside from the usual finance related tasks, a demanding role is played dealing with regulators, media and overseas board of directors. This more visible and public role puts more pressure on CFOs to build executive presence. Many companies have found their growth constrained when their finance director is unable to take this role. Shielding finance directors from conferences and media sessions prevents companies from maximizing the potential of their CFO.
What is Executive Presence?
Executive presence is something that is not taught in business schools, but every successful leader has it. Top executives command people's attention when they walk into a room. When there is a crisis situation, the team turns to them for an opinion. Executives with presence are placed in high profile, high stakes roles to drive the company's reputation and business forward. Executive presence can be created by looking at it from three perspectives: executive credibility, positive image projection and executive connections.
Every company has a culture that includes norms on how to dress. The key to success is to first fit in to get ahead. For an executive working in finance, dress like a finance executive: well fitting suits in blues, grays and blacks will fit in. Conservative colored shirts - blues and whites work in every situation while some executives can carry more colorful shades like pink or lilac strips. Ties allow more room for self-expression with a mix of the above colors used on various patterns like stripes, checkerboard, dots and paisley. In finance, clients expect a safe and traditional approach to business and that is reflected in the dress-sense.
Creative executives in advertising or online marketing have a greater scope to be individualistic. Out of the box thinking can be manifested in clothing colors, and hair styles. In this type of industry, where creativity Is valued, this type of presentation is acceptable. However, even in these industries as you move up the organization, executives tend to converge to a dress-code.
Look around at industry and company norms, and dress a little smarter than is expected. As Jeffrey Fox says in his book, How to become CEO, "look sharp and be sharp". Invest in quality clothing, polish your shoes and groom your hair and fingernails. Successful executive presence starts with an executive look. The first step is to look like a confident executive. Stand out by paying close attention to the small details of personal grooming.
Positive image projection
In today's world of ever-present media, sounding good is an essential part of becoming an executive with presence. Many up-and-coming executives from technical disciplines, such as finance or IT, find this daunting. This can be due to the nature of what has made them successful. A strong focus on accuracy in numbers or minute details in coding are not the best preparation for being an outgoing charismatic executive. As executives move up the ladder into key roles, like finance director, CFO and regional roles, there is an expectation that they can handle public occasions.
A CFO needs to mix with potential clients at networking functions, present a case to regulators and handle media questions. Sounding confident, presenting concisely and managing questions are all stock-in-trade for a successful executive. This can be a big jump for many managers. So many take crash-courses in working with media or work with coaches to bolster their skills and confidence in personal expression.
Start with low-risk environments and if necessary bring in a mentor or HR partner to guide the finance executive into roles and situations where they need to stand up and present a clear message. This support is essential to create self-confidence in the executive. Small wins should be recognized and regular feedback given to the executive. Also, specific suggestions to improve their projection should be an important part of this feedback.
While executive presence can seem like an intangible quality, it is essential for a leader to influence and motivate their team. One of the greatest assets that President Bill Clinton had as a leader was his ability to make every person he spoke with feel like they were special and that he really cared about them and what was on their mind. In a world of emails, text messages and tweets, it's important to remember the power of personal connection.
Executive presence can be divided into competencies and one key competency is "connecting". Executives need to project warmth to their stakeholders and especially stay accessible to their direct reports. This can be challenging for executives from technical disciplines where the focus tends to be on task rather than people. Some executives benefit from support in self-awareness using assessment centers and 360 degree feedback from their directs, peers and managers. This shows their relative strengths and behaviors that may need further development.
For example, a finance executive who needs to develop more client relationships found that their natural preference was to focus on procedures and standards. In fact, this behavior helped them become a fantastic finance manager. The executive realized that they would never be a charismatic, super-outgoing, and life-of-the-party executive, so she decided to hold small presentations for key potential clients to introduce new and changing regulations. Her ability to simply and clearly explain these changes was greatly appreciated and lead to further business opportunities. All executives should build from their strengths to create their own unique executive presence.
While life in the executive suite focuses on business strategy and numbers, building executive presence in key roles, like CFO, is essential to maintain the reputation, credibility and success of the firm. In key and complex markets, like China, this becomes a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible Business Development you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.
Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for Business Development to build relationships and expand your network.
Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.