Networking is something every financial advisor does to build local credibility and a stellar reputation. But it’s not only about that. Amid the numbers and goals, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people fuel our businesses. Relating and connecting to others on an interested, personal level is really the key to building trust and earning respect in your community.

Networking events provide prime opportunities to engage strangers; however, your interaction time is usually very limited. Therefore, it’s best to consider what you want to communicate about yourself and your business, and also what you’d like to know about others — before you attend any event.

Being an introvert (like me!) can make networking much more difficult. I was lucky. As a trader, I quickly learned the importance of relationship-building and physically meeting with others to connect on a more personal level. I didn’t realize until it was too late that I was — gasp — networking! All successful financial advisors attend some sort of networking meeting (or they hold them as an added value for their clients). Advisors also speak to groups as a way to build and market their businesses offline and online. See: Top 10 ways financial advisers can 'market smarter’ — and enjoy it more in 2012.

The right words

An elevator speech (also called a verbal logo, or as I call it, a business snapshot) and a “unique selling proposition” are must-have foundation pieces for all financial advisors. An elevator speech is about your future prospects and clients. It includes a short description of your best clients, how you help them, the main service you provide, and maybe you’ll add your name or your company’s name. A USP differentiates you and your business from the competition. You’re familiar with “M&M’s melt in your mouth, not your hands” — one of the first USPs. Both marketing tools capture your listener’s attention quickly and memorably during a structured networking meeting — or in line at the coffee shop — or as you ride an elevator to your office. See: What exactly is an RIA?.

However, once you’re given an opportunity to introduce yourself, you should be prepared to answer a few more basic questions. Why? You’ll feel more confident in networking situations if you’ve already worked out a few “scripts” ahead of time. I’m not saying to be inauthentic — quite the opposite. When we’re put on the spot we generally don’t say what we’d really like to, and then kick ourselves in the rear (usually over and over again) for it. Remember, when you hear someone expertly describing themselves and their business, it’s because they’ve practiced their answers. See: Advisors should go all-in to make PR worthwhile — otherwise, steer clear.

You may also find that if network events have become boring because of the same old, same old questions and answers, that these new ideas will give these events a new freshness.

Answers at the ready

Think about networking as a job interview with several interviewers. During an interview, you have to demonstrate how your expertise will benefit the company as you provide your experience in sound bites. Write out your responses to the questions below that may be posed to you in a networking environment. And then consider rehearsing each of them. How? Use your mirror to practice. Practice on your family, friends, and associates. Don’t forget to smile!

1. “So, tell me about yourself … “ (Prepare the answer in two ways: personal and business.)

2. “Who do you work with? What do you specialize in?”

3. “How long have you been doing that? How long have you been in business?”

4. “How would I know a good client for you?”

5. “How do people get in touch with you?”

6. “What sort of things do you do in your free time?”

7. “What goals do your clients have in common?”

8. “Tell me something exciting that just happened to one of your clients.”

9. “What would I hear your ideal clients say?”

10. “Is there another business owner you’d like to meet?”

Don’t let one of these basic networking questions catch you off guard. Remember the answer to the classic New York question, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” It’s “practice, practice, practice.”

10 questions to ask over a meal

Lunch or dinner meetings held by associations or organizations provide a wealth of networking opportunities. This can be overwhelming, but productive, if you have your questions prepared.

There will likely be time to network before the meeting begins. That’s when you get to know about someone and his or her business. (This is where you can take the opportunity to ask the questions above for which you have rehearsed answers.)

After everyone is seated, a moderator will make sure everyone delivers a roundtable introduction (insert your elevator speech — in one or two minutes maximum — here). Meanwhile, business cards, brochures—or better yet, an article you’ve written — can be passed around the table. Then, you socialize, generally with the people who are sitting next to you. See: Why RIAs should avoid the carnival barker approach to publicity.

Below are questions you can ask as you eat and wait for the speaker to begin. These questions are somewhat more personal than the questions we’d ask during an event dedicated solely to networking. We often forget to ask more personal questions, losing the opportunity to connect with someone new on a deeper, more personal level—a level that’s not about “the sale.”

1. “Where do you live? How long have you lived there?”

2. “How did you find out about this meeting?”

3. “What did you do before you started your business?”

4. “What other meetings or groups do you attend during the month? Has attending them helped your business?”

5. “What sort of things do you do in your personal time?”

6. “Where do you volunteer?”

7. “What’s the most important thing you’ve achieved in your life?”

8. “What goals are you reaching for personally?”

9. “Do I have your permission to send you a complimentary copy of my online newsletter?”

10. “Would you like to meet for a cup of coffee next week?” (Ask only if they freely give your their business card.)

If you suggest a future meeting, then it’s your responsibility to pay for the coffee or meal you suggested. You both may decide differently later; but you’ve taken the lead, and that’s proper business etiquette. Remember, nothing is more memorable than a networker who shows interest in others! And in the financial world, it’s what usually gives you the edge.

A business strategist and former Wall Street trader, Maria Marsala specializes in helping financial professionals increase their productivity and production. For 20 years on the Street, she helped registered reps and advisors sell more bonds and secure loyal clients. Today, Marsala helps them attract higher-quality clients and expand their businesses to serve their lives — not the other way around. Uncover the areas of your business screaming for your immediate attention and those that deserve a big hurrah! Request Maria’s free Empire Builder Kit and a Complimentary Session atElevatingYourBusiness.com.