Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Liz Lynch @liz_lynch. Liz is an international speaker, business development expert, and the author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person & Online. She’s appeared on CNN, ABC News, Fox Business News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC.com, Forbes.com and BusinessWeek.com, and works with professional service firms and successful small businesses to create strategies that get maximum clients with minimum effort. For more information on Liz and access to free articles and resources, visit http://smartnetworking.com.
SmallBizLady: You have a different approach to networking, so tell us what is “power networking”
Liz Lynch: To me, power networking is not about how much time you spend networking, but about the results you’re able to get. In other words, rather than inputs, it’s more about the outcomes. Is your network responsive? When you ask for help, do you get it? Are your contacts sending you great opportunities on a regular basis? Do you have the confidence to pursue any goal you want in your business — whether it’s to write a book, speak internationally, expand into other markets, etc. — because you know you’ll have access to the right people to make it happen?
You don’t have to network 24 hours a day to be a power networker, I sure don’t. Small business owners are busy. If you’re strategic about how you spend your time, the kinds of relationships you build, and the tools and strategies you use, you can get great results without a great deal of effort. And that’s really what I help my clients figure out. What exactly is the right mix of strategies and activities they should be implementing that would be most effective for them? What should they be doing and what should their teams be doing, because networking should be a part of everyone’s job in a company.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the biggest mistakes people make with networking?
Liz Lynch: There are 3 big misperceptions that drive people towards the wrong actions:
- Misperception #1 “Networking is a numbers game” — Collecting lots of business cards at an event or sending mass emails in LinkedIn to grow your connections as quickly as possible is totally the wrong focus. Having someone’s contact information is not the same as having a relationship with them. And the only thing that counts in networking is the depth of the relationship you have with someone. Will they pick up the phone when you call? Are they willing to recommend you to others? If not, work on building that relationship or else throw that business card away because it’s not going to do you any good.
- Misperception #2 “All I have to do is show up” — Despite what Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up, it’s the other 20% that’s going to make the real difference in your business success. Yes, you can have a profile on Twitter, and LinkedIn and have a Facebook business page, but if you aren’t using those sites correctly, you can be doing a lot of damage to your brand. Same thing with networking in person. You can go to an event, but if you spend the whole time on the sidelines, or glued to the people you already know, then you won’t get as much out of your time investment.
- Misperception #3 “I can’t network effectively because I’m an introvert” — That’s totally wrong. You might network differently from your extroverted friends, but I assure you, you can be successful. I know because I’m an introvert too, and over the years, I’ve discovered so many of my colleagues whom I consider to be great networkers in terms of the results they generate, are introverts too. There are ways to increase your comfort level if you’re an introvert. You can start out with smaller events, or ask the host to introduce you to people you should meet. You can also try to connect with other attendees online first so that you will already know some people when you arrive. A lot of networking groups and event organizers use social media tools so you can see who’s coming and what their background is, and open up the lines of communicate before the event.
SmallBizLady: Given the popularity of social media, how important is showing up face-to-face these days?
Liz Lynch: It’s true that we’ve all have gotten a lot more comfortable doing business online and working with people whom we’ve never met. What I’ve found, however, is that face-to-face meetings speed up the progression of a relationship. It increases people’s desire to work with you, even if they have no idea what working with you would entail. When you have that chemistry and rapport from a face-to-face interaction, it’s easier for someone to think of you as the go-to person in your field, and to want to work with you or partner with you in some capacity.
One of the ways you can tell that face-to-face is still very relevant is by the number of social networking conferences there are all over the world. Even people who love to network online and are very comfortable doing so, still want to get together in person. And that’s a good thing because I believe the combination of both is extremely powerful.
SmallBizLady: What are some power tips for networking at events?
Liz Lynch: A big reason people don’t attend events is they feel awkward, they may be introverts and it’s hard for them to break into a crowd. Believe me, I’ve been there. The first networking event I ever attended, I lasted 5 minutes, so I definitely know the feeling of walking into a room full of strangers. So my power tip for them is to get to events early. Even 10-15 minutes before the event officially starts will make a big difference because at that point, there won’t be so many people in the room. It’s a lot easier to find someone to talk to, and before you know it, the event has built up around you and you’re at the center of things, rather than an outsider trying to break in. So that’s my power tip for introverts and anyone else who hates networking in person.
For everyone else, my biggest power tip is to pick the right events. Don’t go to an event just because it’s free or close to your office. Price and convenience shouldn’t be your criteria for attending events. Instead, find events where you’ll have a good chance of building the right relationships for your business, even if it costs you something, and even if you have to get on a plane to be there.
I’ve gone to conferences to meet one person. Someone I really wanted to partner with, but couldn’t get a hold of on the phone or by email. When I approached her at a conference where I knew she’d be speaking, we hit it off right away, and have worked together on numerous projects. I love conferences for networking because they tend to attract a high caliber of professionals, perhaps for the very reason that they do require a higher investment of time and money to attend.
SmallBizLady: What are the biggest pitfalls of online networking?
Liz Lynch: One of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding that online networking is still networking, which means that there has to be two-way interaction. A lot of folks are stuck on one-way interaction, meaning they’re broadcasting out information, usually about themselves, but not engaging in conversations with their friends and followers. One of the things I look for on Twitter to determine whether I’ll follow someone is whether they talk to other people and share other resources, or posting links just to their own website and products.
It’s similar to if you went to a networking event and someone talked about themselves the whole time and never asked you a question. What would that say to you? It would give you the impression that they’re not that interested in you and all they want to do is get their message out. And if that were the case, how much do you think that person would be supportive of you and want to invest any time or effort in helping you advance your goals?
SmallBizLady: What are your recommendations for the best ways to use social media?
Liz Lynch: The good and the bad about social media is there aren’t any firm rules. You can choose how you want to use it, you can post whatever you want, you can connect, or not, with whomever you want. For example, some use LinkedIn to connect only with those they already know and some use it to expand their network and are willing to connect with everybody. Both approaches are totally valid depending on the goals of your business.
But just because there aren’t any firm rules, doesn’t meant there aren’t some best practices you should be following. If your intention is to use social media to build your business, there are 3 things you should spend your time doing, and everything else you should stop doing or minimize. If you’re killing hours of time playing games or watching videos of kittens, and then complaining that social media takes too much time and doesn’t work for you, you should re-evaluate what you’re doing.
The 3 ways you should be using social media are:
- To build credibility: The majority of your posts should be intended to increase your reputation as an expert in your field. That means posting articles and resources your followers would find helpful. And it’s totally okay to share something personal every once in a while, that’s what adds dimension to your profile and helps people connect with you on other levels, especially if they share your same interest.
- To keep in touch: Social media makes it easy to keep in touch with so many people in your network in just minutes a day. On Facebook, you can see which of your friends is having a birthday, and on LinkedIn you can see who just got promoted or changed jobs. And it takes seconds to say “happy birthday” or “congratulations” or to “like” a post. And when you do that, not only does the person you’re talking to see that, and they feel great that you’ve acknowledged them, but their friends and followers see that too.
- To add value to others: Again, it takes seconds to share a link or retweet a post on social media, which means that in seconds, you can help someone in your network spread their message. No matter how busy they may be, you’ll show up on their radar screen in a very positive way because you’ve helped them. Every little touch point helps strengthen your relationship.
SmallBizLady: How do you manage your time on social media?
Liz Lynch: To prevent social media from being a complete time sink, you really need two things: discipline and productivity tools. With respect to discipline, it’s the same thing most people face with email. Every time management expert tells you to set aside specific blocks in your day to check and respond to email, and you have to discipline yourself not to check it every two minutes because you’ll never get anything done. You should do the same thing with social media. Don’t have Facebook and Twitter on in the background when you’re doing work, and turn off all of your notifications so you’re not interrupted with pop-up alerts that so-and-so is now following you, or invites you to like their page.
Productivity tools that aggregate your social media feeds like Hootsuite or a new service I recently heard of called Nutshell mail, is critical, so that when you are ready to switch over to social media time, everything is in one place for you to look at and respond to.
Decide that you will set aside specific blocks in your schedule to focus on social media for your business, 15 minutes before lunch or the last 30 minutes of the day, for example. Set a timer if you have to and then train yourself to scan for relevant posts to interact with. And when that time is up, move on. Social media will suck you in only if you let it.
SmallBizLady: How do you get people to accept your social networking invitations? How do you choose which ones to accept?
Liz Lynch: Everyone uses social media differently and you have to respect that. Some want to use Facebook only for personal reasons, to keep up with their family and close friends. If you’re not a family member or a close friend, obviously there’s nothing you can do about it. But, they may be more open to connecting with you on LinkedIn or Twitter.
When people send you invitations, it’s up to you to decide whether to accept them or not. And you don’t have to be apologetic or feel bad about it. I used to be very closed with my LinkedIn network, accepting invitations only from people I already knew because I wanted to be able to vouch for everybody in my network. But since Smart Networking came out, I’ve become more open because people have heard me speak at an event, or saw me on TV, or read an interview in a magazine and want to connect with me. If someone sends a personalized invitation, that’s always a big plus. One of my pet peeves is when people use the default LinkedIn invitation. Take the 20 seconds and go the extra mile to write a customized note.
If someone declines or ignores your invitation, it’s most likely because you haven’t given them enough context about who you are and why you would like to connect with them. If you answer those two questions when you send your LinkedIn invitation if the first place, you’ll get a higher acceptance rate than if you just relied on the default message.
SmallBizLady: How does follow up play a role in networking and what’s the best way to do it?
Liz Lynch: Follow up is crucial, and the big tip here is that you have to take the lead. When you meet someone at an event, you have to make an effort to continue building the relationship and take the next step. You can’t rely on them to do it, because chances are they’ll get pulled back into their crazy-busy everyday world and never follow up with you, even if they want to. So if you want something to happen, if you think there is potential to work together in some capacity, you have to propose the next step. Suggest a follow up conversation by phone.
One of the things I like to do is find an excuse to follow up. During the initial meeting, listen closely to the things they are saying and watch specifically for openings where you can provide assistance, like sending them an article or connecting them to a resource. And then do it.
You don’t have to follow up in the same way with everyone you meet. Obviously not everyone you speak with at an event is going to be a fit with you and your business. One of the easiest ways to follow up that doesn’t take too much time, but allows you to keep the doors open is to invite folks to connect with you on LinkedIn.
SmallBizLady: What if you follow up with someone and they don’t respond back?
Liz Lynch: There are lots of reasons people don’t take you up on your offer for a follow up meeting or phone call. They could be very busy or just might not see a compelling reason to take that next step at that particular moment. Fortunately, with social media, you can stay connected and stay on their radar screen in very unobtrusive ways until they are ready.
SmallBizLady: You say that every business owner should focus on building strategic partnerships with other business. Explain what you mean by that.
Liz Lynch: There are companies out there who serve the same target market as you do, but with different services, and finding ways to partner with them can open up big sources of highly qualified leads for you. Strategic partnerships help channel more customers into your business much more quickly and easily than trying to find every lead yourself, and it’s one of the key components I cover in my talk on “Lead Generation Leverage: 3 Keys to Getting Maximum Clients from Minimum Effort.”
Leads are the lifeblood of a business. You can’t have customers until you first get leads. Of course you need a good process for converting leads into customers, but if the leads don’t come in the first place, you’re in trouble.
But, companies won’t partner with you or send you leads out of the goodness of their heart. You need to fill a need they have, and you have to be somebody they know, like and trust enough to recommend to their clients because they’re putting their reputations on the line. Positioning yourself as an attractive strategic partner isn’t all that difficult, but I’ve found that business owners don’t focus on this, and it’s a huge missed opportunity.
SmallBizLady: Given everything we discussed here, what’s the #1 piece of advice you’d like everyone to take away from this interview?
Liz Lynch: One thing I discovered early on in my journey that I tell every audience is that networking is so much easier when people come to you. You always have to be proactive, but it’s also great when opportunities fall into your lap. You have to be visible and accessible AND, you have to be someone that people want to get to know, and work with and refer business to. Every single thing I teach about networking is striving towards that goal, and encompasses everything I talked about today: show up, interact, and add value.
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