Over the course of my career I have attended hundreds if not thousands of networking events and met lots of people. In a nutshell, successful networking is about creating successful long-term relationships and not about selling. It’s about long-term gain and about building quality contacts not quantity. Although engagement with potential clients is transactional what we are trying to create are strong relationships. In this post the focus is on networking insight and do's and dont's.
We have all been told that good networking is a great way to secure new business and develop your practice. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get the best benefit from networking events and sometimes we can experience some anxiety when attending and feel that it’s been a waste of time. Hopefully, some of the tips below might help you gain some benefit from the networking events that you attend.
It might be said that for those who come from traditional caring professions, networking is not something that we naturally do or have experienced in our careers and sometimes this creates some anxiety and possible avoidance of such events.
Some of this anxiety can be explained by looking at social comparison theory formulated by Leon Festinger. Festinger (1954) states that because there are no objective ways of evaluating ourselves we do so by comparing ourselves with others. We are all conscious that we must create a good impression and sell our services, but as you will see later, networking is not initially about selling.
The real emphasis of networking is about meeting people and creating your own network of contacts to help develop your practice or business. You never know who you’re going to meet and what opportunities will come your way – from finding suppliers or other professionals that you might be able to work with to meeting commissioners that may fund you or investors. You might even meet a potential business partner. Networking events can be a good time to get business advice and build knowledge about other business sectors.
From my background as a systemic practitioner I would say networking is all about relationships. Our sense of who we are is intimately associated with our relationships - both to other people and the contexts in which we live. Stratton (2016) states we live our lives through our relationships, I’m not saying networking is like dating but it’s about forming strong relationships with others for mutual gain.
The art of good networking is about building strong relationships it’s not a quick fix and sometimes it may take several weeks or months of attending events, meeting people on a regular basis and building up your contact base. It’s about repetition, getting noticed and sometimes being the expert in your field.
I remember that from attending one of my first networking events and announcing that I was a psychotherapist went down like a lead balloon!! I reflected upon this and by taking a narrative approach, reframing and using different language. I revised my elevator pitch to "providing wellbeing support services for individuals and organisations”- this attracted some curiosity and people came over to talk to me.
Networking is also about listening and as therapists this is something we naturally do well. So paraphrasing, reframing and reflecting can be helpful and make the people that we have spoken feel like they have been listened to which ultimately helps create stronger bonds.
With this in mind I would like to impart some my wisdom gained during the networking events I’ve attended and give you my tips for successful networking.
1. Networking is not about selling. As I said earlier it’s about building relationships and getting to know like and trust people in the room. By all means discuss what you do to raise your profile, but networking is about turning strangers into friends and friends into clients.
2. Listen to understand not to respond. As therapists this should come naturally to us, providing anxiety doesn’t kick in but that’s another story! Ensure you give your new contact your full attention, listening and showing interest, not looking around the room to try and spot someone more interesting. Try preparing some great questions that you can use and adapt to suit the person in front of you listening to understand what they’re saying really helps build mutual understanding helps build trust.
3. It’s not all about you. If you go into the room with a view of what am I going to get out this you probably will not be successful! It’s better to go with the mindset of, how I can help someone or how can I connect with someone then they are more likely to remember you and the more you give the more you gain. I know one of the networking events I have attended have the adage “givers gain”.
4. Do not make judgements and have a positive attitude. Using your self-awareness and being self-reflectiive, checking in when you arrive at the venue just as to how you’re feeling is important as you don’t want to turn up in a bad mood. If you’ve had a difficult journey and it’s been hard to find the venue, just breathe, be calm and walk into the room with a positive attitude. People otherwise might pick up on your negative body language and demeanour. Usually an upbeat positive person draws other people like a magnet. This can help build our confidence, and ultimately held us build those important relationships.
You don’t know who is going to be in the room and who they know as most people have a circle of influence of about 250 people and it’s ultimately these people that you could gain access to. If you judge certain people and don’t engage with them, you will never get the opportunity to be introduced to the circle of influence this circle may include potential clients or useful contacts for you.
Good luck and I might see you at a networking event soon. Please keep an eye out for my subsequent posts about marketing for therapists.
Alan Heyes is a Systemic Family Practitioner therapist and CEO of Therapy Partners and founder of Rewrite Your Story, a charity that supports children and young people’s mental health. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.
Stratton P (2016) The evidence base of family therapy and systemic practice the Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice UK.
Festinger L (1954) A theory of social comparison processes, human relations volume 7 number two PP 117 to 114.