When I say the word “network,” what comes to mind? I’ll bet it’s your client’s or your own tech infrastructure that runs a business. While you’re not wrong, as the self-professed “Image Geek in the MSP world,” I am actually referring to that dreaded event in which you actually have to emerge from behind the computer screen and … gasp! … speak to another human being!
After two decades of interacting with many a tech introvert, I know that you would rather spend your time trying to untangle a client’s myriad wires than having to connect with a menagerie of professionals in a large room filled with intimidating eyes!
Wait – don’t start hyperventilating! Find the nearest paper bag and read on!
Networking is crucial for two main reasons:
- It establishes new, relevant (to your business) connections.
- It helps build your corporate list of warm prospects and referral sources.
In fact, networking is typically one of the most lucrative marketing tactics to grow your client base. Why? Because prospects buy on emotion. The stem of that emotion is “trust,” not necessarily the technology being purchased. Do I trust that the salesperson is telling me the truth? Do I trust that the product the salesperson is pitching will make me feel better in some way? Or, do I believe that the corporate brand has a strong reputation for success?
If you’re like many MSPs you rely on referrals to grow your businesses. What happens if/when those referral oil wells dry up? You must incorporate other forms of “lead generation” into your business growth strategy (assuming you have a strategy in place?). Start with networking events that are in your target vertical, such as your state’s bar association, for instance, if you specialize in servicing law firms.
Once you do decide to network, follow these seven strategies for a successful experience:
Understand your intentions. Networking events are not a time to hard sell. You are going to this event to meet new people who can help you build awareness of you and the products and services you offer.
Dress for how you want to be perceived. If you want to be perceived as educated and successful, then dress professionally and appropriately for the industry event. For instance, if you are at a legal gathering, wear a suit. Manufacturing event? Khakis and a crisp, ironed button-down shirt with nice shoes will do!
Always leave one hand free. Networking is for net-working, NOT net-stuffing your face on the yummy appetizers. Your goal is to meet people, not taste-test the teriyaki chicken skewers. Always keep one hand available to provide your business card and for a proper handshake. You don’t want to be fumbling with plates, forks, and glasses.
Give a strong confident handshake and make eye contact. I know you’d prefer to stare at a static IP address, but a strong handshake and smiling eyes go such a long way toward establishing a positive first impression and crucial connection.
Remember that people LOVE to talk about themselves. Not sure how to break into conversation with someone? Start with asking questions about the other person first. Do NOT start by talking about yourself. Not sure how to break the ice? A few suggestions include: “When did you join this organization?” “Tell me about some of the other events this organization has held.” Another great question: “When you are not networking, what do you do in your free time?” I love this one especially, because you can really get to know a person and decide if he/she could be a great connection for you.
Bring a networking buddy with you. Too nervous to initiate a conversation? Bring a good friend or colleague along to do the bragging for you! And vice versa. Say, “So great to see you, Jim! Let me introduce you to my friend Lisa Shorr. She has worked with many C-level professionals on how they dress to impress and influence others from networking events to the boardroom. I heard Joe talking about taking your MSP to the next level the other day. He should really meet Lisa!”
Follow up. Build your integrity and trustworthiness by following up. Set up that coffee meeting. Email the link to the website you were talking about. Make the connection you promised between your new connection and your existing colleague. Don’t waste your hard work by letting these opportunities to connect go cold AGAIN. Make the effort!
There’s no getting around it, to build your personal brand and your business, you’ve got to add networking to your growth strategy. Don’t worry, though, you’ve got this. Make a targeted list of the events you want to attend. Block off the time on your calendar. Ditch the brown bag. Smile, and just start with “Hello.”