In today’s episode, we’re talking about networking and how to do it properly so you can grow your business in 2021. Let’s face it, it’s likely that networking will be kept to Zoom calls and virtual backgrounds in the near future. We’re excited to interview North America’s Networking Guru, Michael Hughes. Michael runs his own business consultancy called Networking For Results. His advice focuses on maximizing the value exchange between you and the people in your network, leading you to more clients, and thus better results.
What have been some of the biggest changes in the networking space pre-covid and now? [1:05]
The networking space relies on a lot of face-to-face interactions. When the first lockdown happened in March 2020, Michael was shocked. It was almost as if his business plan disappeared overnight.
He then realized that although this face-to-face piece has disappeared, this hasn’t stopped businesses and associations from operating. It was about coming to terms with a transition to the virtual space. Some professionals may not like it, but this technology is the best thing we’ve got. Michael has dubbed technology as “the great equalizer” when growing your business in today’s times.
Did you find that a lot of people were hesitant to network because they were unfamiliar with the technology? [4:05]
Definitely. Michael noticed that business owners and leaders have fallen into three main groups when then pandemic started: fell into one of three main categories when the pandemic started:
- The first group is the biggest and includes those who aren’t as comfortable with navigating technology. They often feel overwhelmed with the diverse range of social platforms and don’t know where to start. They instead hunker down and focus on tending to their existing clients.
The problem with working in silos like this is that you’ll only be able to get so much business from your existing clients before you’ll absolutely need to “confront” technology in order to figure out new ways to get new clients and keep your business alive.
- The second group knows that they’re not fully comfortable with the transition; but they’re willing to brush up on their skills and try to make it work. In fact, they’ll attend more virtual training and networking sessions, seeking out tips to make their new arrangements easier to work in.
- The third group includes those who are tech-savvy. They tend to be younger in age and the overall switch from networking in person to networking at home has been more or less seamless.
Both Lance and Michael agree that virtual networking has been more efficient in expanding their networks than traditional face-to-face networking. Oftentimes, when you go to a networking event, you tend to seek out people you already know and stay in that comfortable circle for the entire event. You’re less likely to put yourself in front of completely new faces.
With virtual networking, it’s a lot more straight-forward and to-the-point. You’re placed into small breakout rooms with people you’ve likely never met before and learn about each other’s businesses.
For the first group of professionals who aren’t as tech-savvy, what would recommend they do to start? [8:03]
First, it all boils down to the fundamentals. At the end of the day, a social network is a social network. If you’re thinking about online networking and you’re not sure what to do, Michael suggests thinking about how you’d network in a traditional face-to-face setting. It’s the same fundamental setup; you’re just talking to a screen instead of a real person.
Second, you have to be strategic. Your credibility grows faster within a group than across groups. Just because there are a million networking platforms doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to be on all of them.
Thirdly, be consistent. A lot of people show up to maybe one or two events. They’ll go through the process and make a couple contacts; but they don’t go back. This point really hinges on the old “practice makes perfect” adage. The more you attend online events, the more you’ll be comfortable, the more you’ll know how to navigate the process, form deeper relationships with your contacts, and so on and so forth.
Okay, so which group(s) should I join? [11:22]
According to Michael, there are three options:
- Self-evident groups that are directly in your industry or niche
These groups are a good starting point. Say for example, if you’re a business owner who operates within the hospitality industry, it would make sense to join a hospitality association. You’ll come across familiar faces and be introduced to new ones.
- Groups that are your target market
As Michael puts it, “If you’re going to network, you’ll want to fish where the fish are.”
With the power of the internet, finding your target market is as easy as doing a simple Google Search. If your target audience is bird watchers, chances are there is a community all about them.
- The most effective group - your clients’ networks
You already know who your clients are; you just need more of them. Why not go to the source and ask your clients what groups they’re a part of? By joining their networks, you’ll be able to harness the power of referrals.
Which networking platforms should I join? What can I do to get involved? [13:50]
It’s important to recognize that each platform has its own unique culture, community, and communication style. You should be active in the platform that is most closely aligned with your target demographic.
Like Michael, for most professionals who work with high-level business owners and decision-makers, he’s most active on LinkedIn.
Over the years, he’s identified what he calls “The Big 3” of the social networking platforms:
- LinkedIn: “The Ambassadors Ball”
A professional network that’s formally structured with proper etiquette.
- Facebook: “The Weekend House Party”
More loosey-goosey on the line between professional and personal, more laid-back and casual.
- Twitter: “Online Speed Networking”
Another side of networking that’s straight-forward, to-the-point, and in 140 characters or less.
We often get so enamoured with the “social” part that we forget the main goal. Most professionals don’t use these platforms to gain more friends. Rather, they treat them as vehicles to grow their business.
Once you successfully choose which platform suits your business best, the next step is to identify your objectives. Michael says that an objective is based on three things:
What’s the return you want financially on the time you take to network? How many leads / prospects do you wish to gain after one event?
How can you convert more leads to clients?
How many more contacts do you need to add to your network to achieve this?
If you frame your objectives using these three factors, you’ll be miles ahead in networking more strategically.
Lastly, it’s important to be courageous and consistent in your involvement with a platform. It can be intimidating to see a slew of comments come in from more well-known, influential leaders on a platform and feel pressured to “put yourself out there”. In order to overcome this, focus less on what others are posting and more about what intrigues you and what doesn’t. Be authentic.
Even something as simple as liking posts you like or sharing posts that inspire you on a consistent basis can help start a conversation between you and someone else on the platform. It’s not about selling at this point, but rather sharing value and knowledge. This is called passive involvement.
What if I want to be more involved on a platform? What kind of content should I post? [18:56]
Different types of content will also resonate more with your audience depending on which platform you’re on.
For LinkedIn, Michael has found that it’s a combination between long and short copy that effectively gets you the highest views and engagement. Long copy is text-based content that is, well, long - like an article with 1500 words. Short copy is the opposite. It’s usually text that accompanies posts and can span anywhere between two sentences to a paragraph long.
The reality is that more people generally view short copy more than long copy and text content over video. Why? Because our attention spans are getting progressively shorter.
Michael recommends putting out a combination of short and long copy on a consistent basis. Gradually, more and more people will view it, share it, and your network will exponentially grow. If you’re in the cat business and you write content based on cats, the goal is to be your network’s go-to for cat content.
On LinkedIn, do I need to join a group or can I just actively engage with content and people that come up on my feed? [24:04]
One doesn’t exclude the other. If you can do both, great, but it’s not necessary. It’s important not to waste spending time in groups that don’t give you value either. Again, it’s all about being strategic by framing your actions (and objectives) using the cash-clients-contacts model described above.
If you’re just looking at content, you can hone in on the type of content you’d like to see or that is relevant to your business by using the search bar or hashtag feature.
When it comes to online networking, we tend to think of it as a linear process: connect, qualify, then close.
This isn’t the same process we follow traditionally. Outside of the online world, we know that business development takes considerably longer. Sometimes, you could be nurturing a prospect for weeks, even months, before you close them and shake hands.
Michael says that the crux of the matter happens when people go straight into the qualify stage after they connect. They’ll have a discovery chat and if it looks like a deal can’t be made, they’ll drop each other. That’s why the lifespan of an online business connection between two people is considerably shorter. There’s no relationship, no rapport, no human interaction.
Instead, think of networking as similar to dating someone.
When you send that first invite to connect, and the other person accepts, that’s like exchanging numbers. What do you do after that? Do you immediately ask them to marry you? That’s one sure-fire way to scare someone.
No, you start dating. You start to get to know each other, have genuine conversations, convey basic human emotions like curiosity, sincerity, sympathy, transparency. No selling happens during this dating phase. The ultimate goal is to take the conversation offline, whether that’s on the phone or in person (Covid-pending). Only then does the selling start.
Platforms like LinkedIn are only a means to this end. It isn’t meant to replace it entirely. Remember: technology doesn’t sell; people do.
Okay, so have more conversation. What can we even talk about? [29:21]
In Michael’s experience, there are two types of topics that tend to deliver the best results:
- Industry Topics
This is business context. If you’re a lawyer connecting with another lawyer, it’s easy to find common ground. Be careful, though, as leading with an industry question too strongly can be seen by some as “commoditizing the conversation” and therefore turn the other person off.
- Proximity Topics
Ask questions about what you already know about this person (it’s usually in their profile) like their career path, the companies they’ve worked at, the schools they’ve gone to, their own content, their interests, etc.
Michael ends off the interview by saying that the single most important skill that professionals need to have today and beyond is online communication skills. When you communicate with people virtually, your words are usually the first thing others see. So, you need to communicate in a way that almost mimics genuine human conversation and ultimately drives the relationship forward. It’s not an easy skill by any stretch and will take time to master, but it could be the difference between business success and failure.
How can viewers contact Michael?
Visit his visit www.networkingforresults.com and fill out the form on the homepage to receive his free ebook and a weekly e-tip.
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