Professional networking is a critical component of any business growth strategy. This is especially true of "solopreneurs" like speakers and authors. Effective networking helps you build mutually beneficial relationships with key people in your industry, potential clients, and other influencers.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, some people spend a lot of time "collecting" connections, thinking that quantity is more valuable than quality. Other people believe the opposite is true and choose to invest time in more lasting professional relationships. You may find that both are important strategies for you to pursue.
We'll begin by identifying the concrete benefits of business networking for speakers and authors in general, then we'll also talk about how to accomplish both goals: meeting a lot of potential clients and building relationships with the best of them.
The benefits of networking
Keep in mind that speakers and authors need to have networking opportunities to meet people both in your own industry as well as in other industries. You may find that the intersection where your area of expertise overlaps with other industries helps you exchange ideas, and opens the door to more speaking and presentation possibilities.
With that in mind, knowing how to network as a writer or a speaker means you can:
- Increase visibility. People need to know that you exist if they are going to hire you. The more people you meet, and the more people who have a favorable impression of you, the more likely you are to be introduced to other people who may need your services.
- Increase credibility. Knowing you exist is just the first piece of the hiring puzzle. Potential clients also need to know they can trust you to be professional and do what you say you will do. Personal referrals help you get hired more easily, as opposed to being found online with no other reference.
- Build your reputation. Your reputation is what people say about you when you're not in the room. If your professional network speaks highly of your work, that positive buzz will reach potential clients' ears and help you land more business.
- Make more money. When all is said and done, networking can directly lead to an increase in revenue for speakers and authors. Whether you're paid for presentations or book sales, networking is an essential piece of the puzzle.
- Build relationships with key people in your industry. It's very useful to develop relationships with other movers and shakers who have influence within the market.
- Gain access to new markets and opportunities. Typically, the best clients come from referrals. Meeting people through networking events gives you more opportunities to give and receive referrals.
- Get feedback on your work. All creatives need to receive feedback in order to continue producing your best work. Networking helps you connect with a handful of people with whom you can share and from whom you can learn.
- Discover new connections to agents and publishers. You won't want to work with every single agent or publisher you meet, but you need to meet some of them to get consistent speaking gigs.
- Provide access to new gigs. These opportunities can come from anywhere! It's who you know that knows someone else...
- Meet potential clients and customers. Face-to-face meetings are the best way for someone to find out what you are like, and for you to share your values. This is how you meet your best clients.
- Meet other professionals who can help you with your career goals and thought leadership goals. On the one hand you would love to have an influencer make an important referral for you, or provide you with a very sweet deal....
- Meet other professionals who need your advice and guidance. On the other hand, it's personally rewarding and satisfying to be able to help someone relatively new to the industry, who just needs a leg up... or a referral.
- Stay up to date with industry trends and new developments. The fast pace of technological change means that everything else also changes. It's hard to keep up unless you regularly tap into the news about trends.
Strategies for successful networking
Identify your goals for networking. This helps you identify which events to attend, and how to follow up with new contacts. Make a list of the types of people you would like to meet at these events. This helps you target your networking efforts.
Schedule time for networking activities. You need to be strategic about when and where you network. You can't just go to a random event and expect to meet the right people. That's a waste of time, energy, and money.
Dress for success. You want to make a good impression, so dress like you would for a job interview or an important meeting.
Be prepared with your "Elevator Pitch". When you meet someone new, you need to be able to explain what problem you solve, for whom, and how you do it.
Develop a strategy for meeting people and building relationships. You want to be meeting new people all the time, but you also want to focus on building relationships with a few key people. (See below for more on this.)
Follow up with your new contacts. You need to nurture your new relationships by staying in touch and following up after meeting them.
Attend events and workshops that align with your interests. You can find these events by searching online, or by asking through word-of-mouth.
Join networking groups and professional organizations. These types of groups can provide valuable resources and connections.
Be a mentor. You can help others by sharing your knowledge and experience. This is also a great way to build relationships with people who can return the favor down the road.
Join relevant online communities and forums. These online communities can help you stay up-to-date on industry trends, and connect you with other professionals.
Reach out to your personal network for recommendations and referrals. These people know you and can vouch for your skills and experience.
Build strong relationships with effective networking
An important keynote speaker tip for networking effectively is to focus on building strong relationships, rather than simply trying to meet as many people as possible. The best clients come out of relationships built on trust.
Here are a few tips for building mutually beneficial relationships:
- Join groups and associations related to your industry. Becoming a member is a big commitment, both in time and in money. But getting to know other people well, who share your interests, gives you the opportunity to collaborate on projects and gain greater exposure for your work.
- Attend events and conferences related to your industry. Low-commitment events (in terms of time) help you meet other professionals within your field, and learn about new developments in your industry.
- Be a resource for other professionals. How can you share your wealth of knowledge to benefit the most number of people? When you become a go-to person for information and advice, you will find that others are more likely to want to help you by returning the favor someday, or by sending a referral your way.
- Follow up with people you meet, ideally within 24 hours. Exchange contact information, and then follow up in some way: through social media, email, phone call, or even a handwritten note. Offer to get together one-on-one. Look for areas of commonality.
- Volunteer for committees or boards related to your industry. Be willing to support "the cause" with your time and energy, if you can. If you can't, you can still find other ways to contribute to your industry.
The 2 things most people forget about networking
Keep track of your activities systematically
If you don't have a system for regularly reaching out to people yet - including follow-up - it's time to set up something that's easy to implement, so you don't resist using it. The most important part of networking is not the events you attend or the people you meet, but what you do with those relationships afterwards.
You need to have a way to keep track of your contacts so you can follow up on a regular basis. This could be a simple Excel spreadsheet, or something more complicated like a CRM system (customer relationship management).
But however you do it, make sure you have a system that works for you, and that you actually use it.
Make sure you measure the results of your networking efforts. See what works and what doesn't work. If you're not sure how to measure the results of your networking, ask yourself these questions:
- What goals did I set for myself before attending this event/meeting?
- Did I meet those goals?
- If not, why not?
- Who did I talk to, and what follow-up action am I going to take?
- What new ideas or perspectives did I gain?
- What were the results of my follow-up actions?
The best way to get better at networking is to practice, and then reflect on your experience so you can learn from it.
Keep up your professional development
Never stop learning and growing in your field. The more you know, the more valuable you are to your network. When you're at the top of your game, people will want to work with you because they know they can count on you to deliver quality results.
Some ways to stay current in your field:
- Read industry news and blogs
- Attend seminars, webinars, and conferences
- Get certified in your field
- Take courses and participate in professional development programs
- Network with other professionals. They can introduce you to new ideas, resources, and contacts.
Make networking part of your daily life
The best way to be successful at networking and grow your speaking and writing business is to make it part of your daily life. It doesn't have to be a formal process - just reach out and connect with people in your community on a regular basis. You never know when you'll make a valuable connection.
Here are some ideas for how to incorporate networking into your daily life:
- Talk to people you meet in line at the grocery store, on the bus, or in other casual settings.
- Attend local events and meetups related to your interests.
- Get involved with community organizations or volunteer groups.
- Join professional organizations or trade associations in your industry.
- Participate in online forums or discussion groups related to your field.
- Connect with people you know on social media, and reach out to new contacts.
Networking is essential for speakers and authors because it helps you increase your visibility and credibility, build relationships with people inside and outside your industry, gain access to new markets and opportunities, get feedback on your work, and meet potential clients and customers.
By making networking part of your everyday routine, as well as your professional routine, you'll gradually build up a strong network of connections that can help you in all areas of your life.