By now, you’ve gone to countless business meetups. In your office rest stacks of business cards, but how much do they really help you? What if every contact you made, became a partner for life? Get ready, now they all can.
One of the most fundamental, but underrated skills for the aspiring entrepreneur is networking. It’s difficult to exaggerate just how crucial networking skills are—yet, the vast majority of people almost miss it completely.
For most of us, “networking” means that you go to a business event, hand out cards, collect other peoples’ cards and perhaps join a few WeChat groups. In most cases, your focus is centered on what you can get out of someone else. “Is this a person who will be useful for my business?” or “What can this person do for me?”
I spent quite a few years following pretty much the same pattern. Later, I was fortunate to get in with some people who were amazing networkers, and who also were happy to take me under their wing and teach me how to do it more effectively. This has led to some incredible opportunities, including being the personal speech trainer for the Mayor of Beijing during the bid for the 2008 Olympics and a keynote speaker at multiple international conferences.
Let’s start with the basics
You must have business cards and don’t go cheaply. Splurge and invest in some good quality cards, which are still quite cheap in China. Also, have someone help you to attractively design them for maximum impact.
Personally, I recommend using a site like Fiverr.com, where you can hire high quality professional graphic designers for little money. I’ve had a logo, letterhead and business cards designed for under USD$35.
People may not notice if your card is poor quality, but they’ll definitely notice when it is high quality. If your company provides cards for you, but they aren’t good quality, pay to have your own cards made.
People may not notice if your card is poor quality, but they’ll definitely notice when it is high quality.
Next, have your elevator pitch ready. You should be able—within a maximum of 2-3 minutes—to give a clear, concise explanation of exactly what it is that you do. Practice and master it. This serves multiple purposes: 1) It prevents people from getting bored by intros that are too long; 2) It prevents confusion from unclear or rambling introductions; 3) It makes you feel more confident, as you already know what you’re going to say; 4) It means that you’ll be able to talk to more people, as you’ll spend less time on introductions with each person.
Master of the crowd
However, those things just get your foot in the door. To take things to the next level, you need to do far more. Most importantly, entirely abandon the “What can you do for me?” or “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality.
Now, when I meet someone, one of the first questions I’ll ask after we’ve introduced ourselves is “What are you looking for?” or “What are your biggest challenges?” or something similar. Then, I will try to think of some way that I may be able to help them. The most common way of doing this is by offering a personal introduction.
I meet someone who explains that they are working in the LED industry. I ask them about their challenges. They tell me that they’re unhappy in their current job and are considering a career change. I know someone who’s a headhunter and a few people in the LED industry, so I offer to introduce them later on, if they would like. In most cases, people will respond affirmatively, but even if they don’t, they will almost always be appreciative that you made the gesture.
When you’re just getting started in building up a network, it may be more difficult to think of people that you can connect, but within a fairly short time—as you build up your network—this will no longer be a problem. Don’t limit yourself to introductions, either. You can also suggest a particular conference that would be good for them, a WeChat group they could join or some other resources that might be useful for them.
Do not, however, try to give them advice, unless they specifically ask for it. There’s a huge difference between simply offering information—which places you as equals—and offering advice—which puts you superior to them.
Do not, however, try to give them advice, unless they specifically ask for it. There’s a huge difference between simply offering information—which places you as equals—and offering advice—which puts you superior to them. One of the more common mistakes (and usually a big turn-off), is when someone starts giving advice to another that they’ve just met. In my experience, unsolicited advice in such situations rarely results in a good first impression.
Get organized for success
You will definitely want to have a system in place for keeping track of your networks. This is the issue that I struggle with most to keep on track.
I meet someone, have a great initial connection and then fail to contact them again for half a year. Later, when I need something from them, I write to them saying, “Hey there, I know we haven’t talked for a long time, but I could use your help with this!”
The advanced networkers that I know will not only keep records and track their networks, but will deliberately schedule times to reconnect with new and ongoing contacts. Something as simple as an email, saying, “Hey, I saw this article and it seemed like something you’d be interested in reading” or “There’s a cool event coming up in three weeks that I thought might interest you.” Like this, you’re not asking for anything, just being friendly and offering them something that may be able to help them.
The absolutely top networker acts as a hub for others—a sort of information center that helps them connect with other people. For me, that’s the most crucial difference between the average networker and the super-networker. The average networker is able to find connections that benefit themselves, but the super-networker helps others to make connections.
“Why all this work to help other people be successful?” I hear some of you probably asking. Perhaps, you’re also thinking, “Won’t other people just take advantage of me if I do that because there’s no benefit for me.”
In a limited, short-term way of thinking, you’d be correct. You will be spending time to help others in ways that don’t directly benefit you and some of the recipients of your aid won’t do anything at all to reciprocate the favor.
Still, with a broader, more long-term perspective, the advantages become significant. People will trust you and you’re the first person they’ll think of when they have not just problems, but also opportunities.
They’ll start introducing you to new networks because they know that you will be a positive addition to those groups. Plus, when you are in difficult situations, they’ll be far more likely to respond positively. You’ll always be the first person to know what’s going on because you’re at the center of the network hub.
Gaining peoples’ trust and building a significant network pool won’t come easy, but with the right perspective, tools and hard work, it will eventually happen. If you always think about others, people will notice and ultimately, that will greatly help you.
Learn from John in person by enrolling in his exclusive Entrepreneur Roundtable Mastermind event in the PRD. Over the course of an entire day, you’ll meet other successful entrepreneurs, find solutions to improve your businesses and of course, build some incredible connections for the future. Read more at bit.ly/mastermindchina