You’re at an event. Some stranger approaches and strikes up casual conversation. They hand you a card with a phone number and invite you to coffee. No, I’m not talking about dating. I’m talking about networking.
Networking can feel a lot like dating, though; it’s all about building strong relationships. And if you don’t know how to navigate the networking pool, you’re wasting your and others’ time with one-time encounters and meaningless conversations.
Your business deserves more than a few chance encounters. Many people overlook the importance of nurturing relationships when it comes to building a successful nutrition business. Here are six common networking mistakes, with strategies to improve success.
1. Lacking Clarity
I’ve been to many networking events where someone has approached me, chatted nonstop, and left me pondering one very important question: “What exactly do they do?” First rule of marketing yourself is having a clear identity of what you offer. If you haven’t mastered a 30-second “elevator speech” describing your business, it means you’re not getting to the point quick enough. Practice, practice, practice.
2. Being Aggressive
Handing someone your business card without first striking up a conversation can be a turn-off. Take the time to get to know someone and make the encounter memorable. Information swapping will happen organically.
If you’re looking to gain a potential client, partnership, or job opportunity, don’t ask right away unless the conversation moves in that direction. If you come across as a hunter, people will put up their defenses. Be a gatherer instead, collecting information about the person with whom you’re speaking. Listen and leave people wanting to learn more about you and your business. Consider how you can help this person by connecting them with members of your network. A little karmic deposit can go a long way.
3. Relying on Credentials
I’ve encountered many colleagues who expect automatic business and referrals by announcing they’re a dietitian. One thing I’ve learned practicing in a state that doesn’t offer licensure to dietitians is that people will seek nutrition assistance from someone they like and trust. Gain trust and likeability by sharing client success stories or debunking common myths. Just make sure to do this in an informative, not condescending, manner.
4. Being Impatient
Networking isn’t a once and done occurrence. Business relationships typically don’t develop immediately. In some instances, it can take more than a year to build up a reputation and trust with potential clientele. Take the time to grow relationships, and you’ll be rewarded with desired business.
5. Overlooking Potential Referral Sources
Remember, this is about networking: You never know whom other people know. Not speaking with your ideal client at the moment doesn’t mean it’s a dead-end conversation. In fact, you have the opportunity to position yourself as a top-of-mind referral source for that person’s family, friends, and colleagues.
6. Forgetting Follow-up
A relationship cannot grow if it’s ignored. Close meaningful conversations with a next step, whether it’s a meeting, phone call, or e-mail. If you feel a relationship could be beneficial, make every effort to have in-person follow-ups as often as possible. Relying on social media isn’t an ideal way to propel relationships forward in a timely fashion. Avoid generic e-mails and instead refer back to that meaningful conversation. Potential members of your network will be impressed that you were listening.
Networking is a skill that takes practice. Just like nutrition expertise, it will take time to develop. No one becomes a networking master overnight. If large groups intimidate you, start small among colleagues and keep practicing. More confidence in your networking will grow those relationships and create businesses that will blossom.
— Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, is the owner of Team with ME: Nutrition & Fitness Consulting, a communications and corporate wellness company on the Jersey Shore. She’s the creator and author of the couples’ nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. A former advertising executive, Mandy combines her business expertise with nutrition knowledge to assist colleagues in building their businesses through branding, advertising, and relationship skills. Learn more about Mandy at www.mandyenright.com and follow her on social media @mandyenrightRD.