A blog post by Claude Saulnier - Wandsoft CEO
17th September 2015 Tweet
As a member (and also proud Ambassador) with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, I attend many networking events. I'll share a few tips and observations that I hope will help you.
I set Wandsoft in 2001. I had neither networking nor business experience. I was desperate to get clients. I joined one of those weekly 7am "networking" group in the hope it would bring me clients. Waste of money: I didn't know what I was selling, it was expensive to join, there were clans and relationships in place and it was expensive on an ongoing basis (
After a while, I stopped networking in that format. The activity expanded through word of mouth, and my own initiative.
A couple of years ago, we decided to put a significant effort promoting the product side of Wandsoft. Primarily a brand awareness exercise. I joined a couple of groups: another weekly 7am (which was another waste of time) and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
What I liked about the Dublin Chamber was:
- Reasonable annual fee (€550 pa) that includes 99% of events free of charge;
- Large number of members: 1,300 with at least 80 people at each event;
- A bi-weekly Business Owners Network.
- There is a vast range of formats: breakfast, lunch, after hours, business owners.
- A secret location: the Members' Lounge, great central location, free coffee, a must if -like me- you're fed up with hotel lobbies. (I have another secret location - not related to the Chamber: The French Paradox in Ballsbridge)
I attended, observed and found a variety of people attending:
- The start-ups: they usually have no money to spend;
- Those who are desperate for business (like I was in my early days in business);
- Those who will visit any networking event they can get to -for free;
- The staff of larger companies. They are unlikely decision makers - but they know others that may need your help. Usually lunch and sometimes after-hours type of people;
- Business owners, who -depending on the size of their business- may be decision makers, but have no money to spend and are here to find and exchange ideas.
- Those who have no promotion strategy and sell a very disparate product range
Bottom line: the person you are talking to is unlikely to be your target client, but they may know someone who is.
I have learnt a lot through my many years running Wandsoft. I also have realised that our offering is not as simple to understand as it seems. Human nature likes to make things more complex, we like to simplify it.
I felt that the best approach was to have a simple elevator pitch, and not be too bothered about bringing a prospect after each event. It has many benefits:
- I am very relaxed
- I am not worried about coming back empty handed.
- I observe and learn about the real needs and problems SMEs face on a daily basis.
- I carry out very inexpensive market research with limited risk.
The best return I got was at an event when I met a former business owner. His company had gone bust because of a pricing policy. We were considering a similar pricing approach. I learnt in 15 minutes what none of the top consultancy firms wouldn't have told me for a 5 figure sum.
The worse I experienced:
- a guy coming to me with his business card with little intention to reciprocate. I had to tell him that I wouldn't take his card if I did not know what he did. We both wasted our time.
- Someone telling me how great they were, but had absolutely no interest in hearing what we had to offer.
- Someone asking me if I wasn't bored seeing the same people every time! To which I replied: do you expect me to buy from you today?
Networking is about: BUILDING RELATIONSHIP.
And you know what? IT TAKES TIME.
So if you are serious about networking with a group:
- Visit the group to ensure your target audience is there, and join the organisation that you feel comfortable with;
- Attend regularly. Breakfast, lunch and after hours events drag a different audience;
- Be patient;
- Ensure you have plenty of business cards. You may not use them all, but it feels terrible running out and finding THE DREAM PROSPECT;
- Ensure your personal branding is up to speed: clothes (I'd rather be wearing a suit than being under dressed), attitude, behaviour (stay sober);
- Be sure that anyone can understand what your offer is, not just you: no jargon, no buzz words.
- Spend more time with each person and get to know each other better.
- Eye contact is important: even if you are not interested, pretend you are for 2 minutes.
- Share some business advice with newly established business: they need to control their cash-flow.
- Speak slowly (and I can admit I find it very difficult myself, and I have a French accent as well)
- Do not go around people giving your business card to every one with no explanation (I put them in the bin as I have never met the person)
- Do not go with no business card;
- Do not expect too much if you are not a member: members pay a fee, why would they do you a favour;
- Do not say you have just started your business: you are saying "I have no client and I am likely to go bust in 1 to 3 years: don't do business with me". Don't lie, but find a different way to express it;
- Do not say your product is under development: it is not finished. "Why would I take the risk to buy it?" "Why would I wait? I want it now!" "it'll never be finished" Don't lie, but find a different way to express it;
- Do not race to talk to everyone;
Found this interesting? Tweet me @claudesaulnier and let me know how you are getting on at your next networking event.
PS: Why a bird picture? Why not? Would you prefer the usual picture of people shaking hands?