Sell and sell alike
When I first set up by myself, the bit about running my own business that terrified me was business development. I had no clients, no contacts, no money and NO idea what I was doing or how I was going to do it. You wouldn’t believe it now, when you bump into me at my third networking event of the day (and I haven’t even had breakfast yet!) but the idea of having to bring in business really scared me.
I explained this to one of the first people I met on the networking scene and she asked me why. Simple, I said, I’m no good at selling!
Ah, she said. Common mistake. Networking and selling are not the same thing. You are not a shop trying to shift a few pounds of potatoes. Networking is the art of finding out about people and giving them a chance to find out about you, to see what you might be able to do to help each other. Helping each other doesn’t necessarily mean giving each other business. It can often mean simply making introductions to useful contacts, sharing advice on business matters (like how and where to network) and discussing areas of mutual interest. Since then, I’ve often joke with my accountant that my football season ticket should be tax deductible. She says no, but the amount of time I spend bonding with new contacts and old over a pint of Guinness and a discussion about whether VAR is a good thing or a bad thing is immeasurable.
What’s also hard to measure is how much good will and future introductions have been generated simply by being a wide source of contacts. Whatever you need, I’m likely to know someone who does it, and I can make an introduction. This is a much better way of being remembered than just going on about law, which, let’s face it, can be dull, boring and sometimes a bit scary.
Take, for example, the lovely young man I met at a networking lunch a week or so ago. He is in the business of improving your online profile and although I expressed no interest in changing my online profile, he still emailed me the following day and told me what was wrong with it and how he could improve it. I have to admit that I was slightly insulted. Whilst I’m sure we can all make improvements to our website, our Twitter feed or our LinkedIn page, there’s certainly nothing wrong with mine and if I was going to make changes, I wouldn’t entrust the work to someone I hardly knew. I could have told him all of this, but where is the fun in that. Instead, I went on to his website, noted that it is not compliant with the Companies Act 2006, and emailed him back asking him if he’d like to instruct me to fix it for him. He thanked me for my time and said he’d think about it, but I’m not surprised to have heard nothing further. He may, of course, have been offended by what I said, and if he was then I’m genuinely sorry as that wasn’t my intention. I was simply trying to make a point, which is that in my experience, if you want to be an effective networker, there are certain etiquettes you have to follow, and doing a hard sell on someone you’ve only met once and don’t really know at all is unlikely to get you good quality business.
Insulting them or implying they are old is another breach of etiquette. A financial adviser contacted me on LinkedIn recently. I’ve never met her, I don’t know her and I don’t know anything about her. Nevertheless, she thought it would be a good idea to tell me that she could help me with my pension needs. To be honest, if I’ve got to this age, with this number of contacts and NOT sorted out a pension plan then I’m probably beyond help, so just assuming that I didn’t have it covered was mildly insulting. However, what really bothered me was the assumption that I’m going to retire at all! It’s a bit like the first time you get sent a SAGA holidays catalogue or you get a voucher for money off on incontinent pads and denture grip. I appreciate that I may need them some time (well, not the SAGA holiday catalogue, that’s NEVER going to happen!) as we all get old eventually, but it’s still poor selling practice to point out that someone is expected to retire.
So to all you professional and successful networkers out there, I hope you have a fab week and look forward to seeing you at the bar soon.
To all you less than professional networkers out there, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I didn’t mean to, but please don’t sell to me. If you want to meet for a coffee and a chat and find out how we can help each other I’d be delighted to catch up with you, but if it’s just going to be a one way street in your direction, please delete my details.
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Selling it like it is.