Looking to enhance your professional relationships and establish the best possible reputation across your client list? Then get networking now
Networking is one of the best ways to create new relationships, grab opportunities and build a business.
It is the art of making connections with colleagues, clients and people in the same industry in order to exchange information and develop professional contacts.
For brokers, that means enhancing career opportunities, expanding a client list or simply achieving a good ‘word-of-mouth’ reputation.
Networking can be carried out on a variety of different platforms – via social media such as LinkedIn, by phone, email, at industry events or in person. It’s simply about striking up a conversation and developing that relationship over time to help people enhance each other’s careers.
Regardless of the platform, the best way to go about networking is to have a genuine interest in people, according to GoNetworking founder Ron Gibson.
Mr Gibson, who recently spoke at The Adviser’s Better Business Summit, has been in the networking business for more than 20 years.
“It starts with the mindset of wanting to be helpful, to be useful to others and to contribute to their success and their prosperity,” he says.
Attending events is one of the easiest ways a broker can get started on building or expanding their network. However, it is vital to remember basic manners, dress for the occasion and make polite introductions when attending an event.
While sticking with those you know is comfortable, networking events are about meeting new – and interesting – people, and building a rapport with those who might be useful to you and your business.
It’s important to do your homework when attending a networking event: research the venue, the speakers, the topics on the agenda and, above all, know who will be attending so you can decide on whom you’d like to connect with.
According to Mr Gibson, a key part of networking is asking the right questions – questions such as, ‘What’s the biggest thing you’re working on at the moment?’ or ‘What is your reason for being here today?’
This will ensure the potential contact is engaged and the broker can get an insight into their current mindset, says Mr Gibson.
“It’s all about providing some kind of value. If the broker isn’t asking smart questions then they don’t identify ways to follow up with people or reasons to stay in touch with them, let alone ways to provide value,” he explains.
It’s also important to remember that while face-to-face events are one of the best ways in which to network, brokers can also initiate networking by email or phone, arranging to meet in person some time later.
In order to network successfully, you need to follow up – agreeing to meet again for another discussion or, at the very least, having a lengthy phone conversation.
“The best networking is always done one-on-one in person, over a cup of coffee, over breakfast, lunch or a drink after work hours,” Mr Gibson says.
When organising a follow-up, it’s also best to keep it simple. People in the industry are plagued all day long by emails and the last thing they want to do is read an unnecessarily long letter from someone trying to network with them.
Stick to the basics: an introduction including when and where you spoke to them, what you’re emailing about (such as a topic you might have discussed when first meeting) and then sign off with a question such as, ‘Would you like to discuss this further over coffee sometime next week?’
This ensures you’re not overwhelming them with information but are putting the ball in their court to network further.
Quality over quantity
Networking experts agree that the quality of contacts is far more important than the quantity.
Troy Phillips, founder of FirstPoint Mortgage Brokers, says one of the worst things a networker can do is go to an event and pay little attention to their conversations, wanting to move on to the next one as soon as possible.
“People that just go to events and hand out their business cards to everyone, are the people others tend to steer clear of,” Mr Phillips says.
“I think to be a good networker you’ve got to be intuitive and genuine,” he says. “If you’re not intuitive and genuine then find another way to do business.”
Brokers should attempt to really get to know their potential contacts and remember that three solid impressions are of far greater value than 20 quick ones.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Patience is the key when it comes to networking and brokers must be willing to go the extra mile in order to be a successful networker.
It doesn’t happen overnight; in fact, it’s a gradual process in which brokers must be prepared to regularly check up on their contacts.
“It takes between six to nine conversations before the relationships are built to the point where the parties trust each other enough to consider giving business or referrals,” GoNetworking’s Ron Gibson says.
A good networker will not ask for anything at the first meeting; they will be patient and consistent in developing their relationships over time as well as articulating what they themselves can offer.
Remember, networking is not about scoring on the first date; it will be a work in progress that will hopefully result in something meaningful that will benefit you and your business in the long run.
Socialising vs networking
There is a clear difference between socialising and networking of which brokers must be aware.
“While socialising is good fun and enjoyable, if it doesn’t have a purpose to it then it’s all for naught,” Mr Gibson says.
Networking is about sharing information which is beneficial to the other person’s occupation or business. It’s about exchanging contacts and making introductions while simultaneously expanding your own network.
“If there’s no agreement to do something following the conversation, if there’s no opportunity to pursue as a result of the conversation, if there’s no sharing of information that’s useful either for yourself personally or for them personally, or for your business or theirs, and if there’s no follow-up to continue to build a relationship, then you haven’t been networking – in fact, you’ve been socialising,” Mr Gibson says.
Some of the most common mistakes people make when networking include being too self-serving or trying to achieve goals but to the exclusion of the other person, says Mr Gibson.
Many people are unprepared to develop win-win relationships, and instead constantly harass people for leads and information without offering anything in return, he says.
“[Networking] has got to be a two-way street,” he explains.
Experts claim bad networkers share much territory with opportunists – these are the people who are looking only to further themselves and not anyone else.
This fails to generate contacts and therefore business opportunities.
Another common mistake is not obeying the 80/20 rule: listening 80 per cent of the time and talking 20 per cent of the time. By doing all the talking you’re not learning about what you can offer the potential contact and you’re also probably giving off a narcissistic vibe.
The bad networker just runs around the room like the Energizer bunny, handing out business cards to anyone that will take them. These people tend to take little time to invest in a genuine conversation and therefore make the biggest networking mistake of all – being ignorant.
A good networker will take the time to ask meaningful questions, instead of making a sales pitch about themselves or their business. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about your business, your goals and what you have achieved for your clients but when it starts to sound like an advertisement, you know you have crossed the line.
A bang for a buck
So, how can networking most help those in the broking industry?
With more competition out there than ever before, smart brokers will be using every possible option to stay ahead of the game and networking is a huge advantage.
“It’s [brokers’] number one way to build their business,” Mr Gibson says. “It’s their number one marketing business development tool and it’s often underutilised, primarily because it’s misunderstood.”
Statistics show that brokers who fail to contact their clients at least every six weeks are at risk of losing business to rivals.
Brokers need to have a way to maintain regular, personal contact with their top referral sources and their clients.
“That requires a personal touch every month or six weeks, and the best way to stay in personal touch with customers is to show them how to build equity in their own home – give them ideas that can improve their circumstances,” he says.
“Brokers need to make sure they look after the clients that have been referred to them and keep the referral source in the loop.”
The digital age
According to website Small Business Trends (smallbiztrends.com), 83 per cent of brands use Facebook while 53 per cent use Twitter and 61 per cent use LinkedIn as their primary professional networking site.
LinkedIn is arguably the most useful online tool for brokers since it is specifically designed for networking and is so popular that it has two business people signing up every second.
With your personal account, LinkedIn is a good way to show others what you’re capable of and suggest how you could assist them in either their personal or professional life.
You can also invite others to network, which enhances your own network in the process. These connections are then able to endorse your skills, highlighting them to other potential connections.
“I think all brokers need to be on LinkedIn,” says Mr Gibson. “It’s a great way to keep up with people in their networks and let them know about what’s going on in their [own] business.
“LinkedIn is also a very important way to be discovered and be found by customers or potential customers, but also potential referral sources,” he said.
To ensure you get the most out of networking, use LinkedIn and other social media platforms as a way to build connections. By doing so, you’ll be able to learn more about others and see what they’re working on.
Be sure to treat your profile as your own professional brochure, listing important facts and skills about yourself along with a suitable profile picture.
Keep it up to date and regularly post in order to stay relevant, and link or share content to help people understand the value you have to offer.
THE DOS AND DON’TS OF NETWORKING
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