Selling yourself well makes good business sense

Article by Pam Kershaw (The Sydney Morning Herald)

It's a familiar scenario in small business right now - clients cutting budgets, canceling orders, pruning back projects. You need to find new business, but where do you start?

Cold calling and cold emailing area waste of time, according to networking specialist Robyn Henderson, of Networking to Win. A better strategy is to build your visibility, create alliances and generate referral opportunities by sharpening your networking skills.

But networking is not about attending an industry event with "D for desperate" stamped on your forehead, nor scanning name tags so you can immediately target potential clients.

It's about building trust, giving referrals rather than expecting them and realising business may come from people who are one or two removed from your immediate contacts.

By way of example, Henderson recalls being bailed up for 30 minutes by a Japanese woman at the Bangkok launch and signing of her book, Networking to Win.

Henderson was puzzled by her persistent questioning, but the next day the president of the Japan Secretaries Club approached her and said the club would like to translate the book into Japanese.

The president's colleague, whose role it was to seek out new opportunities for the club, was the woman who had occupied Henderson's time the previous day. A contract was signed for 1,000 copies of the book, Henderson made a few thousand dollars on the deal and, when the book was launched in Japan, tied in a speaking engagement at Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) conference.

"The book launch gave me immense credibility at the PATA event," she says. Contracts were also made that could lead to future business.

Henderson, who has a background in sales and hospitality, has spent the past 10 years conducting seminars on networking, speaking at conferences, writing five books and collaborating on a sixth. "I saw networking was the way globally that things would happen," she says. "People could not continue to churn and burn customers. They were not building long term relationships or clients for life."

Henderson relies on her own networking skills to generate about 150 speaking engagements a year. She does not advertise, but her books and Web site also help build business that sees her diary booked 90 days ahead.

She recommends small business owners join their own industry or professional association and at least one general networking group such as Business Referral Group or the Australian American Chamber of Commerce.

A minimum monthly budget of $100 should be allocated to cover function costs, and two meetings of a group attended before you make a decision on whether or not to join. "People are out of their comfort zone the first time, and may not necessarily get the right impression of the group," she says.

You should decide on clear and realistic outcomes you would like from meetings; the more specific these are, the more chance you have of achieving them.

While hoping to meet a key executive who will hand you a million-dollar contract is not a realistic outcome, targeting two people from a specific industry that may hold new opportunities is realistic, as is networking with the "everyday people" in an organisation who could help you reach key executives.

You should take plenty of business cards (this is elementary, but Henderson says a third of people do not), arrive early and leave late so you can have quality conversations with five to seven people rather than working the whole room. Learn to introduce yourself effectively, mentioning any business area in which you specialise.

"Get it down pat so you can say it under 10 seconds," Henderson says. "Don't be vague, because most people either undersell themselves or confuse people."

If you meet someone who is a potential client, don't occupy his/her time for more that 15 minutes. These people may be prime prospects, but they are also there to network for their own business.

Henderson says networking is a life skill, and good networkers build their profile through being helpful to others rather than simply focusing on potential opportunities. "It's not something you just do at these events, it's a way of lateral thinking," she says.

Good networkers also understand three universal laws: reciprocity, abundance and giving without expectation.

While this may sound like it's straight off the American talk circuit, it means concentrating on making the pie bigger for everyone rather than worrying about the competition, giving referrals rather than seeking them, and believing opportunities will open up because of the chance meetings.

Once you have made a contact, follow it up. Good networkers spend 15 minutes a day following it up, and ensure they contact their client network at least once every 90 days in what Henderson calls the "law of recency".

Let them know you're still out there," she says. "I am loyal to suppliers who keep in touch with me, as it builds trust."