Looking for a way to generate activity from a new set of clients? One way is to sharpen your networking skills and get out there
TECHNOLOGY – INCLUDING email, social media and smartphone apps – might be a boon for brokers when it comes to encouraging business from existing clients; but to generate new activity and new contacts, few things beat traditional face-to-face networking.
Rather than seeing business functions, conferences, training days and exhibitions requiring your attendance as a chore, look at the events as an opportunity to generate new clients via networking.
Actively putting yourself out there is a great way to advertise your business, learn more about others’ businesses and determine how both parties can work together to help each other out, says Ruth O’Brien, mortgage broker with 2020 Financial Solutions.
For most people, however, networking won’t come naturally and for some the mere thought of a room full of strangers brings on bouts of anxiety.
Luckily, there are tried and tested ways to remove feelings of anxiousness that can ensure brokers are able to make the most out of every networking occasion.
For example, attending events in which you are genuinely interested is likely to be less stressful as you will want to learn more and meet new people with similar interests.
Instead of taking on the daunting task of trying to meet everyone in attendance, go in and spend more time developing more worthwhile bonds but with a smaller number of people, adds Ms O’Brien.
Networking events are often brimming with new people and new business opportunities, but you won’t take home any leads if you go in unprepared.
Think through some things to talk about before you arrive and you’ll have a great way to get a conversation going. It will also give you the courage to make the initial approach.
Rather than diving straight into business talk – or still worse, the hard sell, as this will eliminate any chance of building a connection – engage people first with a more general or ‘sociable’ topic.
You should also find out in advance what sorts of people are likely to be there so you can prepare subjects relevant to their industry.
Be highly organised, and go in with plenty of business cards as this is something tangible you can give potential clients to remember you by.
Business cards can also be an ice breaker when meeting people for the first time, says Tim Brown, CEO of Vow Financial.
“Handing out your business card can be a great opening line; it immediately establishes who you are and what your business is,” Mr Brown says.
“A card handed back to you by a real estate agent, accountant or lawyer can provide great opportunities.”
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
You should remember that every situation is a potential networking opportunity, so it is crucial you put your best foot – and face – forward, regardless of the occasion.
The right personal appearance is vital to establishing that you are both approachable and confident, so always make sure you enter any situation with authority but also friendliness, with the right body language and with a smile on your face.
Keep in mind that most people in the room are probably just as nervous as you are, so be proactive and make first contact. This is a great way to obtain respect from those whom you approach.
If you really want to make a lasting impression, go in with a point of difference, Ms O’Brien recommends.
“One of the lender’s BDMs has a point of difference and is known as ‘the Minties lady’ because she takes Minties lollies to hand out to those present at networking functions or business meetings.
“As a result, everyone remembers her as the BDM who can assist with ‘sticky’ deals,” she says.
People enjoy being listened to, so after the introductions have been made ask some open-ended questions that will get others speaking about themselves.
“Asking open-ended questions is a great way to unveil opportunities because business usually comes up as you are talking to [people] and that gives you the chance to position yourself as someone able to offer them something,” says Mr Brown.
While you want your business to establish a presence in the conversation at some stage, be tactful about how you approach this and wait until an opportunity presents itself within the conversation before you mention the business.
“Before I make any mention of myself I’ll ask what [other people’s] interests are, if I don’t already know, and I’ll starting honing in to get them to talk about themselves,” says Tony Wills, owner manager of Mortgage Choice Willeton.
“That way, I am engaging them in conversation, finding out more about them and building rapport.”
While you may be nervous, avoid the inclination to fidget as this could be perceived as lack of interest; rather, give the person you are talking to your full attention in order to create a connection.
Making the first move may feel daunting, but it is less uncomfortable and definitely preferable to the awkwardness of standing around with no one to talk to.
LET’S GET PERSONAL
Industry events often require you to go out actively and make contact, but why not network in those areas in which you already have strong credibility, thus avoiding the need to constantly re-establish yourself?
Mr Wills is one broker who uses social situations to network passively as he finds that is where the easiest leads come from.
“The people there will know you or have an affinity with you and will often feel more comfortable in approaching you,” he says. “You may not be going there to network but through socialising it can just happen.”
In social situations, a majority of people will already know what type of business you are in and will use this as a chance to initiate a conversation about their current situation, adds Mr Wills.
“In these situations everyone wants to talk about their mortgage or house and I am always getting asked financial questions of interest to those particular parties.
“They will then often ask if they can grab a business card so they can give me a ring during the week to further discuss.
While events provide you with a point of contact, it is what you do after that will determine where the relationship goes from there.
Following up is just as important – if not more important – to your networking strategy as making the initial connection, so make sure you jot down the interesting details obtained from your first meeting to use as conversation starters next time you speak.
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