Don’t Be Afraid of Networking
By AHP Staff
If you are like many hairdressers, this scenario might strike fear in your heart. You walk to the front door and slowly open it. There are people everywhere, talking, laughing, exchanging business cards, smiling. Here you are in all its terrifying glory—a networking event. You are afraid you might throw up. But you force yourself to walk up to the check-in table—clutching your business card holder and taking a deep breath.
If you think you are the only one to feel this way, guess again. You’re just like the overwhelming majority of beauty pros who would rather endure a root canal than attend a networking event.
To many of us, networking feels unnatural and awkward. It doesn’t have to be that way if you can change your perspective to view networking as a natural, easy, and even (gasp) fun experience. It may also help to focus on how it can help your salon business grow.
What is Networking?
It might be better to start with what networking is not. It’s not about making silly small talk with dozens of people. It’s not about pushing business cards into every person’s hand as soon as you say hello. It’s not about a hard sell of you and your salon to total strangers. The real purpose of networking is the act of connecting. It doesn’t have to be complicated, or high-pressure, or uncomfortable.
When you network, you are basically looking for an opportunity to make useful connections with people. We all network every day without realizing it. Our salon clients are real estate brokers, teachers, bankers, and all different kinds of people doing all kinds of jobs. When your client is trying to sell her house, and you give her the name of another one of your clients who is in real estate, bam! You just networked! Pat yourself on the back!
Once you change your perspective and think of it in this way, it becomes much easier and less stressful. Now you’re ready for the next step.
It’s Not All About You
Well, it sort of is. It about the hair services you provide and growing your salon business. But that is something you don’t need to dwell on at first. If you look at being helpful to others, you will help yourself without feeling you being manipulative. The savvier you get, the more structured you can be about the connecting you do on a daily basis. When you flip your focus to helping others, everything changes. Try to make connections that will benefit others. Who can you introduce to your clients that may start a valuable business relationship? Maybe one of your clients is looking for a chiropractor, or a wedding planner, or an esthetician. Connecting your clients with the services they are looking for will generate their loyalty and will increase reciprocal referrals.
The more you help other people, the more you will benefit. There’s a reason Business Network International (BNI—the largest networking organization in the world) coined the phrase “givers gain.” The more you give, the more you get in return.
The Elevator Pitch
People seem to think they have to immediately launch into a detailed, memorized elevator pitch. It may go something like, “Hi, I’m Betty! I’m a hairstylist who specializes in hair extensions and natural-looking hair color for busy career women looking for minimal upkeep. I work at Curl-Le-Que on 5th and Broadway.”
What a turn off! It’s too much too soon, and you end up sounding like a robot.
Keep it short and sweet. Try something like, “Hi, I’m Betty and I’m a hairdresser. You have beautiful hair. Has your hair always been that color? This opens up a conversation. No matter how this person answers, you have a chance to talk about hair and invite them to come see you at the salon. It’s a dialog between you both, rather than just spitting out a rehearsed pitch.
You’re Not Alone
When you think you’re the only one who has anxiety, guess what? At least half the people in the room are afraid of approaching someone for fear they’ll trip and spill their beverage all over that person. It can help if you focus on rescuing others who seem to feel more anxious than you.
If you’re at a networking event, look for people who are standing alone, close to a wall, and seem to need a friend. It’s so simple to walk up to them and say, “What a great place to people-watch. What brought you here tonight?” Or, “This is my first networking event. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?”
Have an Exit Plan
When you’re networking, there is always the chance you’ll be cornered by someone who wants to tell you all about their entire life and will not shut up or let you get a word in edgewise. The pilot seemed pleasant when you introduced yourself, but after 20 minutes of listening to them tell you the trials and tribulations about being a pilot and showing no interest in you being in the hair profession, you need to move on.
One of the easiest exits is to act like you’re doing the other person a favor. Try saying, “Well, I don’t want to keep you from meeting more people. It was great talking to you!” Then walk away. It can be as simple as that.
Make Networking a Habit
Networking can happen any time. It doesn’t take a formal networking event. You can strike up a conversation in line at your bank or tell a client about the wonderful bakery around the corner. It can mean getting to know people at your church or where you volunteer at a local nonprofit. It can be chatting up the other parents at your son’s karate class.
The more you network, the easier it becomes. The more connections you make and the more you help people, the more you will attract business of your own.
12 Conversation Starters
- If your tongue seems to freeze up when you approach someone, here are a dozen great conversation starters.
- What do you do for a living?
- What was your first job?
- What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
- What’s the best job you’ve ever had?
- What would be your absolute dream job?
- What did you want to be when you were little?
- How do you define success?
- What qualities do you look for in an employee/employer?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What are you most grateful for?
- Where were you born?
- Do you have any children/pets?