In this article we step away from the lectern, get off the gym floor, and look at business networking. There would be no FIT Presenter without collaboration with other independent professionals. If you are an entrepreneur, you are in business for yourself, not by yourself.
Even if you have a mastery of accounting, promotion, product design, content creation, outreach and communication, inventory management, scheduling, and facility maintenance, your time and energy are limited. Accept it. With the right business networking savvy, you can free yourself to do what you do best and delegate the dirty work to others. Virtual networking groups can connect you to resources all over the world and direct the discussion towards a win-win partnership. However, you also need to protect yourself. Cyberspace is loaded with con artists, scammers, shameless salespeople, cyberbullies, tech weasels and know-it-all narcissists.
Someday we'll find it ...
The tips you are about to read come from the frustrations of a lonely FIT Presenter in pursuit of the perfect network. Such a network exists somewhere beyond the northwest passage, between Atlantis and El Dorado and downwind from Parts Unknown. Until we find it, please allow my past experience to have positive value. Please? I’ll send you a business coach and an SEO specialist as a token of gratitude.
Who do you know?
When you join a business network, you are now in the referral business. One quality referral to a colleague is better than ten well-crafted sales presentations. Even if you use PowerPoint. Even if you are coached by the FIT Presenter. Help people grow their business and their gratitude is worth more than all of your talking points combined.
Networking groups in the past were often confined to a conference table where the members used each other’s services in an entrepreneurial co-op. It looked like the Rockettes, each standing on one leg while holding up the free leg of the next in line. Today’s networks are global. When you meet people, take note of how their services might help others. The people you meet are looking for people you know.
Aside from referrals, you can also expand your business with collaborators. In a networking group where I belong and host the Tuesday meeting, a video production specialist and a writing coach teamed up to create a product. She creates the content, he records it. She lives in California, he lives in western Canada. They are unbound by geography or differences in market focus. Their great attributes were not writing and video production, but rather the ability to listen to and learn from one another, and the modesty to understand their own limitations.
What don't you know?
Speaking of modesty, knowing your skill set only matters if you know your limits as well. At a recent network meeting, I asked the group, “What don’t you know?” Their honesty surprised me, but their answers did not. Most entrepreneurs, myself included, are far behind in the technology aspect, especially with social media and CRM. The more honest you can be with yourself, the more help is available.
"I can do it!" -- Don't believe it.
Yes we can! Si se puede!
The affirmation “I can do it” usually radiates optimism. In the world of business networking, stay away from people who use that phrase. Many people rattle off their credentials and their skill set ahead of what they can do for your business. They care more about “This is what I do” rather than “This is what I can do for you.” They will tell you about Bluehost and WordPress and list every web-based application that has a bunch of decimal points in it, but they will never talk about what your website will look like. They expect you to marvel over their years of experience, bow down to their excellency, and hand over your money. They showcase their own knowledge more than what they can do for you and care nothing about your needs.
To filter out the undesirables, give your potential collaborators some homework. Send info for them to learn about you beforehand. Most people will not look. The few people who follow up deserve your consideration.
Let me teach you how to cook!
Virtual network meetings lead to one-on-one meetings, usually via Zoom. Your Zoom room savvy is your key to good networking. These meetings can also ruin your day if you don’t prepare and protect yourself. The following is a quote from a collaborator in a different networking group than the one where I host.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you! Stop looking around. You need to pay attention and listen to what I’m saying right now!”
She started off by telling me that my business was a gold mine, and that I was missing out on a great opportunity by not using her services. When I questioned the value to my business, she lost her cool. Other members of the group know exactly who I’m talking about whenever I tell that story.
Aggressive sales pitches are bad enough, but know-it-all mouthpieces are even worse. With a sales pitch, you can end the call by saying “no thank you.” People with no objective at all are the first ones to tell you how to run your business. The less they know, the more advice they have. You tell them you have a restaurant, and they say, “Great! Let me teach you how to cook!”
I get calls like this about once a week. People who can’t put two sentences together are the first ones to tell me how to speak. Nothing is more exhausting or frustrating than unsolicited advice. After the disaster that took place the other day, I now have a ready-made response. Send them a website or some information about what you do. Most likely they won’t look at whatever you send. Then, when they try to phone in their digital wisdom, you can fire the silver bullet.
“I have a policy and I stick to it. If you don’t look at my material, then I don’t listen to your feedback. Nothing personal. If you don’t care enough to look at my website, then you don’t care enough to give good advice. I’m sorry, but I have to cut you off.”
Now you’re protected. The other person knows they can’t establish dominance, which is most likely their true intention. I’m already jealous of the fact that you might get to use my line before I do.
You can expect to find the best and the worst contacts in business networking. To make the most of your collaborations, enter a group with an open mind and strict parameters. Be firm that nobody understands your business better than you do, and understand that everybody sees your blind spots better than you do. And once you're ready to tell the world about your success, make sure you hire a speaking coach that places an emphasis on physical fitness.