A lot of us have a less than loving relationship with networking. I'll be honest. I've never really enjoyed it. And while I don't think I'd consider myself a true introvert, I do like to think of myself as a "webtrovert", i.e. someone who feels more comfortable interacting for the first time with clients and leads online rather than in person.
It's not that I'm opposed to meeting clients face-to-face. I often do, but ask me to go to a networking event, and I'll probably think of ten other things I'd rather be doing. I don't love to be thrown into situations where I don't know anyone in the room or I think I may not be making the best use of my time. However, if I can take some time to prepare in advance of the conversation, I feel more in control of or like I have more of an influence on the outcome. Of course, there's no guarantee, but I do prefer to feel prepared than caught off guard. My guess is you do, too.
So, how do we take the fear or discomfort out of networking and really own the message we want to share as translators and interpreters?
My suggestion: online networking… especially because of the industry in which we've chosen to work. As translators and interpreters, we don't always have the ability to meet our clients in person. Some of us work with clients in other states and countries. That's why we sure as heck better know how to effectively networking with them online.
Here are my top tips for taking the fear and discomfort out of networking.
● Set up a time to network every day. Yes, every day. Or at the very least, a few times a week. You set the time. Put it on your calendar or in your agenda, and show up for it like you would a meeting with a client. Decide how to best make use of this time by preparing and providing them with value. That value will look different for each of us. That's why it's best to know and understand the needs of your ideal clients.
To read more about how to know and target your ideal clients, check out How to Determine and Attract Your Ideal Client and How to Create and Ideal T&I Client Profile to Market Your Services.
● Use this time to interact with your clients or potential future clients. Send some warm emails or engage with them on social media. Give them a call, or send them a handwritten note. All of these things can be done on your own time and do not require you to attend an event or have an awkward conversation.
● Treat your online networking efforts as market research. The more you get to know your clients, the more information you can "swipe" for future marketing campaigns and messaging.
To learn more about what "swipe files" are and how they can work for you, check out Why You Need to Keep Swipe Files for Your T&I Business.
● Set aside some time or a specific day each week in which you can meet with your clients virtually. You can easily set up appointments these days with online calendar tools, like Google, Calendly, etc. It's just as important to stay in touch with and meet with current clients so that they know you are available and excited to continue working with them. Tell them what you're working on and ask what they're working on as well. Engage. Engage. Engage. This is not the time to sell. Just engage.
● In advance of the networking session or meeting, take some time to get to know the person you are meeting by looking them up online. See if they have a blog, or published articles, if they've won any awards, if they have been mentioned or interviewed recently. See what they're posting on their social media platforms. Do your homework. A feeling of preparedness will allow you to show your interest in working with the client and will also give you some potential topics of conversation.
When you take the time to schedule these things, you will start to see the benefits of networking this way.
● You are in control of the "when" and "where". No longer will you be caught off guard by a direct question from a potential client.
● You can feel comfortable meeting someone from the familiar surroundings of your home office or workspace instead of having to pay $15 to $20 for an event and trying to juggle finger foods, a drink and hold an intelligent conversation.
● You can easily schedule your work around these networking sessions because they are short, focused and you won't be spending valuable time driving to and from an event.
● You are able to make sure that you meet with someone who you actually have a desire to do business with, and not just the person who ends up standing next to you in the buffet line at a large networking event. This type of networking allows you to be strategic.
● You can continue to get to know your clients and hone your message. Practice makes perfect, right? The more you take the time to network online with your clients, the better you will get at it. It will no longer feel like an uncomfortable task to help you market and grow your business. It will simply be a part of doing business.
Don't like the idea of a virtual session? Pick up the phone. Prefer to meet the client in person over a meal? If they're local to you, schedule it! Once you are able to comfortably network with clients on your terms, whether virtually or in person, you can really craft and refine your message so that marketing and networking become second nature. See what works for you and what doesn't. And go from there.
Networking doesn't have to be something that makes your hands sweat just thinking about it. It can be fun to do the research to get to know a client better before you have that first conversation. It also helps your clients get to know you better and trust you. After all, people like to do business with people they like and trust. Own your networking skills. Own your message. Grow your business.
To read even more networking tips, check out my Seven Tips for Effective Networking When You Work from Home.