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Friday, December 24, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: Networking - Your Questions Answered

Connecting Is Not Enough with Andy Lopata

UK business networking strategist Andy Lopata was recently asked to answer questions on networking and referrals in a webcast for business software company Sage UK. Here are some of the highlights of the two hour q & a session.

Among his answers Andy discussed

- How to pick the right social networking sites and get a return from them

- How to approach people when you network

- How to overcome a fear of approaching strangers

- Why people should network

Isn't this social media stuff just a load of hype? I'm unconvinced that networking of any value (in the business sense) can be achieved by the internet. I've signed up to LinkedIn and I haven't had any value from it. Convince me otherwise!

Many people sign up to LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking sites without seeing any benefit. Most commonly that's because there is little education about how to use them effectively towards specific business goals. If you set clear objectives for your use of each network and understand how to best participate and reach your objectives, you will find your membership far more productive.

For example, I teach people how to use LinkedIn to generate referrals. The site can show you how you are connected through your network to the people you most want to meet. You can then ask for introductions to those people. That relies on a strong relationship with the person passing the connection, often forged online, and a compelling message for your prospect so that they want to connect. If those are in place it's a very quick, easy and efficient way to generate referrals.

If you want to find out more about what is happening in your marketplace or your clients' martketplaces, social networks make it easier to reach out to people across the board and learn from their experience and expertise. Ask questions on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Post in forums on Ecademy. Join niche networks focused on those industries.

Can you suggest any concrete targets for networking activity? Is value of new business gained the best measure to use? And how to you assess something as fuzzy as "raising your profile"?

Some of your objectives will be tangible, such as amount of new business generated. In those cases always measure them over a reasonable period of time and not purely on financial grounds. Networking isn't that simple or easy to break down.

If I were to suggest a new business target I would recommend a 'Referral Mix'. For example, target different types of introduction and client and the numbers of each that you'd like to achieve. That's far more targeted and true to real business than purely financial numbers.

For less tangible objectives you may focus on what you need to do, rather than how you will measure the results. However, you might be looking to build your profile in a particular country, industry or other marketplace, and the results of those activities can be measured in new business.

As a small business owner I'd like to know more about how to tap into and utilise social media, what's the best tool to start with? Blogs? Tweets? Facebook?

Understand why you want to use social media first. You can then pick the right approach for you. For example, if you want to develop your profile (become better known) and share your expertise, a blog may be the best place to start. If you want to engage more frequently with people you know, Facebook or Twitter might suit. If you want to meet more people, perhaps a site like Ecademy would work.

For Henry and John, and anyone else baffled by social networks, I've just published a new article to help you get started on social networks. The Beginner's Guide to Social Networking is now available at

Recently someone told me that when networking never ask 'So what do you do?' What do you think and what should I ask instead? I do want to know 'what they do!'

Thanks for asking my favorite question! I always advise people not to ask 'what do you do?' It's the networking equivalent of 'Do you come here often?'!

The scenario I'm referring to is when you first meet someone at an event. At that stage many people simply ask what the other person does as an ice breaker and their interest isn't genuine. They are either looking to see if you are a prospect, or waiting for you to respond and then ask them the same so that they can launch into their elevator pitch.

My advice is always to build the rapport and relationship first. Find out what you have in common and build on that. I would always prefer someone to ask what I do when they genuinely care, rather than when they've first met me.

I always ask 'Do you come here often?'! OK, I don't actually use those words, but you are looking for something in common. If you are at the same event, that is common ground. So asking someone if they are a member or if they're a first time guest is a good way to start a conversation. If they've been before, what benefits have they seen? If it's their first time, who else do they know there, why did they come, where else do they network?

From there you always have somewhere for the conversation to go, including finding out what they do if appropriate.

I have a real problem with approaching people. I get very nervous and tend to clam up. Are there any techniques you can suggest to help me combat my fears and get out there? I know I really need to do it, but it's scary!

Hi Trish, you are not alone. My last book was called '...and Death Came Third!' because of a survey where more people were anxious about walking into a room full of strangers or speaking in public than dying!

Personally I blame my Mum! After all, when I grew up she kept telling me not to talk to strangers. I think this is the root of a lot of our fears, and it's not a rational fear in a networking event. I can't remember the last time I saw someone attacked at a networking event; rejection is very rare too.

Write down five qualities you bring to your business and the businesses you work with. Also write down five of the qualities that make you a great person to spend time with. Ask your friends, family and colleagues for what they most admire and respect about you.

Before you go to any event look at the two lists and then ask yourself why anyone WOULDN'T want to spend time with you! They'd be mad not to want to enjoy your company and benefit from your expertise wouldn't they?

Another tip for Trish, when you go to events, look for people standing on their own and then ask if you can join them. Work on the basis they haven't gone to that event for solitude.

If I walk into an event not knowing anyone, and all people there are already in conversation, can I walk up to a small group of people who are already having a conversation and just say hello without coming across as being disruptive/rude?

When you don't know anyone and everyone is in conversation, look at the body language of each group. If you can easily walk up to a group and join in without them moving their position, their body language is 'open' and you should be OK to join.

If you'd have to elbow your way in, they are more 'closed' and I wouldn't approach as you may be interrupting.

When approaching, rather than going up and introducing yourself, stand on the edge of the group for a few seconds and let the conversation continue. Don't interrupt if someone is speaking. If you can join in the conversation they are having, that is perfect. Otherwise, wait for a suitable pause before asking if you can join them.

How do I get someone to remember me from the other ten people they met that very same night?

The chances are that the other ten people they met will have tried to sell to them! Dale Carnegie said 'People are interested in people who are interested in them', so drop the elevator pitch and show a genuine interest in other people.

If it's appropriate, offer to introduce them to other people you know. If it's a powerful introduction they will certainly remember you for it.

Look for common ground. If you share an interest, background or experience in common they will relax in your company and you will stand out from the crowd.

Finally, follow up. Make your follow up personal and do what you said you would do. Unfortunately most people don't bother, so you really will stand out over the long term.

What would you say are the top benefits of networking? I often find it difficult to manage my time running a small business and am sceptical on how intense networking can be.

Networking can help you reach many of the objectives you set in your business. From lead generation to sourcing suppliers, to gaining market knowledge and support with challenges you face, Networking can help you by spreading the word.

If you have a strong network around you who make any task easier by sharing their knowledge, experience, expertise advice and contacts, then that is going to save you time, tears and effort elsewhere.

That's why you need a strategic approach to your networking, rather than running around like a headless chicken without objectives.


Are you struggling to put an effective networking or referral strategy into place? Do you want to know more about how to ensure you get the maximum possible return from your networking?

Visit Andy's brand new website at for more resources and ideas about how Andy can help you.

Andy's new book, on how to generate an effective referral strategy, will be published later this year.

“In this book Andy Lopata demonstrates how so many businesses ignore potentially their most powerful resource – their networks. Andy’s in-depth, practical advice will show you how to both build and profit from the relationships in your network.”

Ivan Misner, NY Times Bestselling author and Founder of BNI and Referral Institute

Andy's Audio program, "Networking in Ninety Minutes," will give you the tools you need to make the most from your networking. Available in CD or mp3 format here.

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