Networking Tips for Business Coaches and Mentors
Networking is reciprocal. As a business coach, you can develop your network in different ways. Traditionally, face-to-face relationship creation has been the norm. This method often consists of getting together at evening network meetings with like-minded business professionals over canapés and a glass of wine or at a business breakfast with a speaker and mingling while you chew on a croissant and drink average coffee.
The organized network of small businesses or professional associations such as BNI, the Institute of Directors, the Small Business Federation, and the like, where business cards are swapped and elevator pitches are honed to perfection, have sprung up during the last 30 years, too.
A new wave of networking is happening in small and medium-size business where the social aspect of doing business by having membership of shared office space is becoming popular. Clever, opportunity-spotting entrepreneurs are making a business out of this. WeWork, a company established in 2010, has grown to $16 billion in seven years by developing high-specification serviced office spaces in the United States and, more recently, the UK.
WeWork is more than a serviced office; it’s more of a networking and business-building concept. WeWork is funded on a rolling subscription based on usage. Members are encouraged to network, share ideas, and create community. The system is a vibrant model and a great way for young businesses to make connections, get recommendations, and get things done business to business.
Equally, online networking has taken off and enjoyed massive growth in the last decade. This doesn’t mean spending time on Facebook sharing the latest photos of your birthday-type networking. Instead, this means using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to make business contacts and network easily. The power of online networking is huge and has created large revenues for business, too.
The answer to “Do you network and how?” has become more complex. We’re doing it at multiple levels. What are you doing to create new relationships and developing existing ones actively?
The concept of business networking started with the Industrial Revolution according to historians, but what about the marketplaces of Ancient Greece and Rome? Whole civilizations were built in trade and transaction. The principle of networking is the same today: a deposit-and-withdrawal game. The investment may be worth its weight in gold if you get clear on two things:
- What are you networking for? Identify networking groups that meet your interests. Some networks are all about making contacts and pitching to each other for business. Others are based on learning and making social contacts for future projects.
Are you looking to mentor a new business owner, for example, or are you networking to swap contacts and increase sales? Get really clear on what your aims are because doing so helps you focus your attention and determines where you want to network, whom you want to meet, and why.
- What are you prepared to share, and what is your boundary? How trusting are you of others, and what are you willing to share with them? Networking involves the development of trusting relationships for mutual benefit. It’s reciprocal, and when it works well, lifelong relationships are built. If you think of networking as transactional, you’re really missing the point. Think about what your boundaries are around the relationships you intend to create.
Networking is business creation, and it gets richer as an experience when you focus your attention in the right places. Develop your skills if you need to. Discover how to engage with others, to actively listen and take a genuine interest in them. Ask good questions that create a dialogue instead of leaving the other person feeling she’s been interviewed. Be clear about if and how you may be able to help someone, and follow through on your commitments. Get clear on what you would like from each networking relationship. Become confident in talking about yourself, your business, and your aspirations.
Relationship management is a great area for coaching. This area isn’t like step-by-step coaching to get a date (which is popular, by the way); it’s more like coaching a client to develop strategies to meet her networking goals. Some of this coaching may be about helping a client get clear on answering those two questions: “What are you networking for?” and “What is your boundary?” Alternatively, it may be a specific skills area that a client wants to develop.
Here’s an example of how starting small creates memorable networking skills.
Ben, a newly appointed assistant director and rather shy, had an objective to increase his network of contacts within the insurance industry during a 12-month period. He would be taking over the insurance division of a legal firm at the end of the year. When his coach explored this problem with him, it was clear that he wanted to build his confidence in talking to new people.
One of his concerns was that he would meet someone in person and forget her name during the conversation. When the time came to move on, he handled the “goodbye and keep in touch” badly because he couldn’t recall the person’s name and would be so focused on the business card he would look rude and disinterested. This issue seems a small thing, but it was really getting in Ben’s way.
Remembering a name creates rapport and makes people feel good. His coach demonstrated a simple tried-and-true method to help him with recall. You can try it for yourself. When people tell you their name, attach it to a memorable thing about them, such as “Rory red tie” or “Sharon works for Guinness and comes from Canada.”
Obviously, you don’t then introduce them to others at the networking event like this! You could attend a networking “mingle” with a colleague or your coach and make the learning fun. See how many of the same people you both meet, what you used as your recall tag, and what you can remember. Then discuss follow-up commitments.
If you find networking a challenge, you may be shy or lacking in confidence, or you may just need to practice it. Break down the skillset of approaching and introducing, active listening, recall, describing yourself and your work, making a request, closing, and agreeing on follow-up. Focus on getting just one element right. Then build on that and work on the next. Remember, networking is a skill, and skills require practice.