Networking is one of the best ways to get more clients and increase sales. Unless you do it wrong. Then networking can feel incredibly awkward and actually work against you by reflecting poorly on your business. In this post, I’ll share some tips for making networking less painful and more likely to pay off. Some cases will be specifically to illustrate networking for photographers, but the ideas are applicable to just about any other business.
What is business networking?
Very simply, business networking is when you leverage your connections to bring you new business. Every person you’ve ever come into contact with has the potential to help you move your business forward. Even if they’re not a direct client or customer, they probably know someone who could be. And absolutely nothing beats the power of a word-of-mouth personal recommendation. Networking can be done on an individual basis, or you can often find networking events centered around specific industries. But as simple as business networking may sound, it is actually quite complex. It requires you to be very proactive and strategic as you must actively develop and leverage relationships for mutual benefit.
Now that we know what networking is, let’s talk about some mistakes you should avoid when networking.
Networking Gone Wrong
I’ll never forget a few years ago when a salesman came to my door pitching plumbing services. While the gentleman was nice and polite, he made his pitch all about his services and seemed very insistent at booking an appointment with me. “Your house is old and probably needs [some plumbing thing] looked at,” he said. “I visited your neighbors Cathy and Joe last month and found that their house had this same problem…” yadda yadda yadda.
In all fairness, he did some things right, and some things wrong. But the big problem was this: By launching into his pitch too quickly, he missed the fact that I had just moved into the house one week ago. I was still unpacking and settling in, and plumbing was the last thing on my mind. As a result, I shut him down pretty quickly, but I did take a flyer and attached it to my refrigerator, just in case.
Two months later, my basement toilet and shower flooded. Sewage was spewing everywhere and I had absolutely no idea what to do. In a panic, I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do or who to call. That’s when I glanced at my refrigerator and saw the flyer the plumber had left behind. I didn’t have time to poll my Facebook friends for recommendations or even go through Yelp reviews for ideas. So I called the plumber immediately, and he came to my rescue.
Common Networking Mistakes
Whether you’re pitching plumbing services or photography services, there are key networking principles that apply. With my example above in mind, here are 5 networking mistakes to avoid the next time you approach a prospective client.
Mistake 1: You talk more about yourself than about your client.
When I answered the door, the plumber salesman started pitching me his services without knowing a thing about me. He had no idea what my relationship to the house was, or if I even lived there at all. What he should have done was start off his pitch trying to get this key information from me, and catering the rest of his pitch accordingly.
Start off by making the topic of conversation about the person you are talking to, not about yourself. Only after you find out the bare essentials about the other person should you begin to talk about your business.
Mistake 2: You are too aggressive in your pitching.
The plumber was way too assertive in the sense that he was pushing way too hard to get me to commit to an appointment on the spot. Most salespeople are also overly aggressive, and this can be a huge turn-off. Personally, I hate being sold to. I’ll often reject all forms of sales simply because I don’t like admitting that sales tactics work on me. I’m much more likely to end up becoming a customer or client if I can do so on my own accord.
In many cases, it’s better to use the networking opportunity to empower your potential client with information and incentives so that they can decide on their own terms if and when to book your services. Give them the elevator pitch and include your photography mission statement and the services you offer. Then, slip them a business card, offer an incentive (more on that below), and tell them to follow-up later if they’re interested. Don’t pressure them on the spot unless they initiate it first. Sun Tzu said it best in The Art of War:
Mistake 3: You don’t provide an easy, low-commitment way for your client to experience your business.
If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know you or your business at all, you need to find a way to show them what you do and why you’re the person for the job. It’s all about establishing trust in one way or another.
The plumber actually got this part right in that he mentioned working with my neighbors. Name-dropping can be a very effective networking tactic as long as your references check out. If you’re pitching photography services, mention some local celebrities or businesses that you’ve worked with. Talking about your credentials and previous work experience might be enough to convince some clients. But in many cases, you’ll need to take the next step and offer an incentive.
Mistake 4: You don’t offer an incentive.
Another very effective way to introduce clients to your services is to offer a discount or complimentary service. This is a low-risk way for the client to experience your services and thus establish trust. I didn’t know the plumber at all, nor did I yet know my neighbors that he mentioned. What he could have done to further convince me was to offer an incentive, like a free inspection. This could have been his foot in the door to allow me to see him at work and perhaps get sold on more services based on his recommendations.
As a photographer, consider offering a complimentary or discounted photo shoot. Make your client feel like they’re getting a deal as a way of giving them a chance to preview your work and maybe hire you to do more if they’re happy with the results. This can be totally worth it if the client could generate you a lot of business. Wedding photographers often do this by adding in a discounted engagement photo shoot. This pre-shoot gives both the couple and the photographer a chance to break the ice and get to know each other before committing to the big event (the wedding!).
Mistake 5: You haven’t created attractive marketing materials.
Whenever you make a sales pitch or network with someone, you can safely assume that the person will not make an immediate decision right then and there to hire you. In many cases, it will be similar to my plumber situation where a handyman walks in out of the blue offering a service that I don’t need at that very moment because it’s not on my mind yet. This is the case for a majority of networking opportunities, and it is one of many reasons why you should never be overly aggressive with your sales pitch.
As a result, you should always have physical marketing materials to give to your potential client. Marketing materials are a physical reminder of your business that will hopefully inspire your potential client to think of you when they need you. Plumber salesman got this part right by leaving me a flyer that I immediately attached to my refrigerator. In fact, he could have been more effective by shortening his pitch and just leaving me a flyer.
Business cards are the essential for networking events. Often times, you can exchange business cards with a prospective client, thus getting their contact info as well. But you may also consider getting creative with your marketing materials and creating something more practical. Consider a hanging wall calendar that has your images and logo on it. If your prospective client hangs this somewhere, they will be constantly reminded of your brand and services, thus increasing the likelihood of getting them to call you someday.
Bonus Tip: You haven’t shown a sincere interest in the industry you’re going after.
This bonus tip doesn’t quite relate to my plumber story, but it does apply to my advice of attending networking events to find new clients. If you attend an industry networking event to seek new photography clients, you’ll probably have to attend several before you see any real benefit. You’ll need to become a recognized part of the industry before any of the other attendees take you and your business seriously. Otherwise, you look like a one-time opportunist.Try to get hired as the photographer
One way to seamlessly blend in with the networking event is to get hired as the official photographer. You can either do it as a paid gig or do it gratis as a form of illustrating points 3 and 4 above. That way, you’re there on official business and can exhibit the way you work to the attendees. Also, it gives you a more clear reason for being there. If you’re not an event photographer, consider offering complimentary or discounted headshots on site. You could also give a quick how-to photography demo if that’s more your speed.
Networking can be an amazing tool for getting more clients. However, it’s important to avoid these 5 mistakes in order for it to work. My most successful and prolific networking connections are always mutually beneficial in some way. Always keep in mind not only what you’re gaining from the deal, but how your client is benefitting as well. Keep the other person’s interests in mind before yours and you’re more likely to have successful networking results.