Networking 101: How to make it work for your VA Biz
I recently put a Q+A post out on my social channels, asking you what you found the most difficult thing about being a VA - and the results were staggering. In fact, a huge number of people said they found sourcing and converting clients the hardest. While there’s a few different tactics to combat this, there’s one that’s a sure-fire way to help: networking.
Not only is it a great way to get your name out there, find new opportunities and build relationships but once you get used to it, you may even find that you enjoy it. Of course, it can be daunting though - whether you’re new to the business game or a seasoned pro. But in this guide, I highlight how you can overcome any nerves and make networking work for you.
First things first, I want to look at the reasons that you should consider networking. As well as helping you to promote your business, it can:
Allow you to find new opportunities
Meet potential clients
Engage with like-minded people
Provide support if you’re changing roles or kick-starting your career
Save time and money
LinkedIn revealed that 86% of its users had found work through networking on the platform - so it just shows that you don’t even need to attend in-person events or online sessions to be successful.
How has networking changed?
Years ago, networking usually focused on huge conference events or drinks at a bar after work - where only the loudest and most confident stood out. But, now, thanks to Covid, we’re enjoying a new virtual means of networking - which is great for newbies, introverts or even those who are just too busy to take time out of their day.
In fact, according to BusinessDictionary.com networking is defined as ‘reaching out to someone to make his or her acquaintance and exchanging information, and then keeping that connection active through regular communication.’ You’ve probably even been doing this without realising. Talking to friends, sharing your company’s latest post on social media - even highlighting what you do to someone at the gym. It all counts, and it’s all networking.
The structure of networking has changed too. Increasingly, we’re seeing casual meet-ups and online coffee chats that are just as much about getting to know the person behind the business as they are about promoting your services. Many even use social media channels like LinkedIn to network with other business owners - instead of attending events.
Of course, in-person networking events have huge benefits but if you’re just starting out or prefer to keep things online, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s plenty of ways to do this.
In fact, it’s now easier than ever to reach out to people virtually and tap into new communities - that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Some of the best ways to network with those from different locations and backgrounds are:
Sending an email
Following and communicating via social media
Attending a virtual event
As with traditional networking, be sure to ask questions, be human and if you connect with someone instantly, why not try to arrange a call?
Top tips for staying confident
Even the most experienced business person can feel nervous from time to time, and if public speaking isn’t for you that’s completely fine. Networking and speaking to strangers just won’t come naturally to everyone but you may find that you get used to it after a while.
Begin by joining online networking events, and taking a back seat. Even if you don’t speak up that much, you’ve still attended and can get used to the format. Gradually start speaking to one or two people each meeting and connect with them online to continue building the relationship.
To boost your confidence further, for both online and offline networking, take a look at these top tips:
Do your research - Take a look at the event format so you know what to expect and research the other companies attending so you can put a face to a name.
Prepare some questions - Whether you have your eye on someone you want to speak to or just want to ask something specific, finding out the topic of the networking session and writing down some relevant questions will help.
Don’t put pressure on yourself - Even if you don’t speak that much for the first few events, take it as a positive. If you go at your own pace, you’re more likely to enjoy it.
Use the chat function - Many online networking events will be run via Zoom or Teams. Instead of speaking out, use the chat function to ask any questions or send over your thoughts.
Get your tech ready - WiFi glitches or your laptop running out of battery are only going to increase your anxiety. Make sure you’ve got everything ready before the meeting and maybe even consider a back-up.
Know your story - Often, our nerves can stem from either not knowing what to say or that pesky imposter syndrome. Prepare a short intro about yourself and your business which you can use whenever someone asks what you do.
Make connections - After each session, connect with people you met and begin a conversation via LinkedIn. If that’s too much, like their posts and consider engaging via there instead.
Set a goal - From speaking to one person to promoting your services, a goal can help you to be focused when you’re in the moment. Of course, it’s completely fine if you don’t manage to do it but why not try it and see what happens?
Don’t give up. There’s no one way to network but, like everything in life, the more you do it, the easier you’ll find it. Take a small step each time and remember to stay calm and don’t overbook yourself. One a month or even one a quarter is more than enough.
If you’re going to an in-person event, remember that one-on-one conversations are where the magic happens. When you arrive, get a drink - even if it's water - and keep your eyes peeled for someone else that’s standing on their own. Try to make eye contact or take the plunge and wander over. Everyone is there for the same reasons, remember.
Play to your strengths
Whatever type of networking you choose to do, if you’re a natural introvert or maybe just not that confident, why not play to your strengths?
Give (rather than receive)
The truth is, we like to be listened to so if you can show someone you’re doing that it’s a great starting point. Networking isn’t all take, take, take, either, so if you’re able to recommend a potential client or even use the other person's services, it’s a great way to start a relationship. And afterwards, spend some time reflecting on the people that will be beneficial to you. Follow up with an email, ask to meet for a coffee and see where it goes from there.
How Balance can help
The biggest struggle I had when I first started was having the confidence to sell my services. I felt way out of my depth and a bit of a fraud. BUT, as soon as I signed up my first client, it got easier. I did it via online networking, which is why I'm hugely passionate about finding what works for you.
In-person networking isn’t for everyone so why not try some social media networking or online networking first? For me, LinkedIn has been wonderful. So if you do anything today, why not connect with some like-minded people on there, see if they fancy a virtual coffee and then follow up your call with an email?
Forget the hard sell and instead focus on getting to know the person you’re speaking to. Learn about their business, their painpoints, their goals. Then, use this information to your advantage by suggesting ways you could help them.
Want to discuss this idea more? Perhaps you need some help with another area in your VA business? We’d be delighted to help. In fact, we’re now offering a FREE 30-minute consultation with new and experienced VAs to help you to stay on the right track. If you’d be interested in hearing more about it, drop us a message, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to keep up to date with our business news.