The basic idea of networking is pretty much the same in every industry: building and strengthening business relationships. However, your best networking opportunities are typically specific to the industry you’re working in.
Many trainers find that their best new business opportunities come from other trainers. There are several reasons for this. Firstly trainers sell time, which can only be sold once, so they need reliable colleagues to pass overflow work to. Trainers also often have to bring teams of trainers for larger events and, again, this is why a resource of additional professionals is essentially. Finally, training is a broad field with many specialities. Sometimes it's better for a trainer to use someone who is more qualified in a specific field, so they need to know who is good at what.
Leverage your skills
As a trainer, you should have something of a head-start when it comes to networking: you should already have a good working knowledge of how to best present yourself, and how to build good relationships with people.
Combine multiple networking methods
Many people are still stuck in the networking mindset where face-to-face meetings are how the bulk of the “work” is done, but that’s a huge trap to fall into, and one which misses out on the incredible power of social networking. On the other hand, some people are great with web-based networking methods, but aren’t good at face-to-face meetings. Savvy trainers combine both methods to vastly expand their both their network, and their networking efficiency.
For example, Twitter and LinkedIn are both excellent tools for staying in touch with people who attend training events, as well as for connecting with people even before you meet them. And with every follower you gain, you have the potential to reach people in their networks. Effective use of social media is an essential skill for trainers, as it is with any freelancers, since freelance success relies in part on establishing a solid reputation.
So, the first suggestion is to network with other trainers. There are associations and events and you can contact people who have a similar profile. To find the best ones ask other trainers. Everyone who organises events will tell you that theirs is the best but other trainers really know. It's a good way of building a relationship with another trainer and you may be able to go to the event together.
Cold calling is a complete 'no no' these days. You can send an email asking if there's a convenient time to introduce yourself and this is a much better strategy. It helps if you are known to someone first, and this is where other networking methods can help.
Twitter and LinkedIn are tools that are far too powerful to ignore but remember that they should be used in conjunction with traditional networking methods, not as a complete replacement for them. Forming effective business relationships still relies on building trust, and so when you connect with people that you want to form really good relationships with them, in-person meetings are still the most effective route to building that trust. Step 1 is to become known by following and sharing content. This takes a while and should always be done authentically, but you can build up enough trust to move on to a telephone call or meeting.
Always wear your networking hat
Even if you’re unable to attend dedicated networking events, there are always networking opportunities - especially as a trainer, since you’re constantly meeting new people. Training sessions aren’t just opportunities for the people you’re training; they’re also networking opportunities for you. At the least, each session is a chance to pick up new social medial contacts, and there’s always the possibility of meeting people that you’ll go on to form lasting business relationships with.
The key is to use emotional intelligence while networking. No-one wants to have a business card thrown in their hand with a blunt attack. However, the British in particular are not very good at asking for opportunities. If you ask a corporate client whether they can make introductions within their organisation some will be agreeable and some will not. You should know which is the case before you ask really, trainers should be able to read the signs. You may need to ask the question and judge your client's reaction. It is critical that you learn this skill if it's something that you feel uncomfortable with, because you may be losing opportunities. Always ask yourself; 'What's the worst that can happen?'
Networking is a skill that improves with practice. Many people feel that they don't enjoy it, but the result is that you lose potential business. In a way it's odd that many people have such an issue with networking because humans are essentially social animals. Generally it's the selling element that causes people to shy away. The solution is don't sell, just chat. Ironically if you do that you'll sell more anyway.