Pretty much everyone who runs a business is going to hear at some point that it's 'all about networking'. Or, they might hear that it's 'all about who you know' or 'all about making connections'. It's all the same thing, really: connecting with people. If you make a genuine connection with someone, that's going to mean something. They'll think of you next time someone needs [insert your services here], and they might just recommend you.
The thing that folks tell me they get stuck on isn't the fact that networking is essential. It's not even the where part of the equation: most get that you can network pretty much anywhere, from parties and conferences to Facebook and twitter. Anywhere you might find people to connect with, really, online or off.
The part that folks do get stuck on is the how. How to not only inform others what you do but that they should totally think of you next time someone needs your services. How do you do that?
The first thing you need to do is get crystal clear on who your services are for. Who is your target audience? What makes your approach different? If you're able to articulate this in a short, easy to digest way, it will go a long way in helping you 'sell' you services to others. This is because when someone asks what you do, you'll have something more interesting to say than just 'I'm a massage therapist' or 'I'm a nutritionist'. You'll be able to tell them you work with pregnant women, or that you focus on cancer-care work, or that your clinic plays rock music and is very much the opposite of many holistic health places. Really, what you want to think about is what makes you different from others who do what you do, and why might that be interesting to someone you're chatting with at a party.
The second thing is to go with the flow. By that I mean this: if someone you're chatting with seems interested in talking with you, go with that! Talk with them, ask them about what they do and what they're interested in. People often love to talk about themselves! This lets you make genuine connections with people, and naturally at some point in the conversation you'll end up talking about what it is you do. Just be yourself and go with it. Personally, I'd rather spend time talking to people and getting to know them rather than focusing on self promotion. It just feels so much more authentic!
The last thing is this: practice, practice, practice! It might sound silly but really, being able to network effectively is a learned skill for most people, just like anything else. Most of us aren't born with the 'gift of gab'.
I once attended an online session with Paul Jarvis and Kai Davis about pitching to clients - that is, essentially, how to effectively sell what you do to other people. Kai was talking about how he does networking at events he attends and how that has helped grow his business. He commented that when people who know him from high school or university run into him, they're always so shocked at how good he is at pitching, because he used to be the quiet guy who didn't really do that sort of thing. His secret? No secret at all: practice! He just kept doing it until it became natural. Even when it was uncomfortable or weird. Even when he felt like he didn't want to do it.
So there's our magical networking equation. Clear Target Audience + Being Yourself + Practice = Networking. I'm not going to pretend it's easy, because it's not (for most of us, anyway)! But hopefully this has showed you it isn't as mysterious as we might think.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!