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Networking tips

Claude SaulnierA blog post by Claude Saulnier - Wandsoft CEO

17th September 2015 

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 ( breakfast at mad prices). It did not work out. I also joined a bi-lateral chamber. It helped a bit, but with a majority of expats who are not decision makers, it wasn't a big success either.

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:

Do's

  • 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:

  • 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;

Conclusion

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?