Networking is a way of connecting with people of similar interests for the purpose of identifying new business opportunities, sharing experiences, good practice, and information. It’s about getting to know people and building relationships. Over 70% of new business is gained through word of mouth and therefore networking should be an integral part of the marketing strategy of every company that is serious about doing business.
I can vividly remember my first networking event as an independent coach. Arriving in a suit I soon blended into nothingness in the sea of black and grey attire. Having introduced myself to a group I remained there for the most of the evening. When I did gather enough courage to move, I found many of the groups difficult to ‘penetrate’. In my defence, the hosts did little to introduce people to each other and the atmosphere was very ‘clicky’. I left feeling very cross about the 90 minutes travel, the £4.50 for a G&T, the wasted 2 hours, time and money!
I put that down to experience and embarked on a mission to master my networking skills. Here I share with you what works for me:
Be experimental There are hundreds of networking events and clubs that you can access. Try as many as you can to find the ones that you have a ‘fit’ with, complements your style, values and personality. Most people belong to more than one networking club or will attend a range of different networking events.
Be purposeful Before you attend any event ask yourself this question, ‘Why am I attending this event? For what purpose? What is my objective?’ Is it to gain new contacts, speak to a specific person, raise awareness of yourself / your business? Get yourself know in a particular circle?
Speak to the organisers and obtain a guest list and do some background search on those listed and then identify the people who you want to speak to. Then prioritise this into: must speak to, would be nice to speak to, if time allows. This way you are going with an objective in mind – for example, to speak to 4 people in the first category and 2 in the second
Be memorable Find out the dress code and wear attire that complements the type of event you are attending. You are more likely to get noticed and remembered if you are wearing something that differentiates you from everyone else. This does not need to be brash or in ‘your face’ but something subtle and effective. For a woman, this may be a necklace, a brooch or a scarf.
Be confident Arrive in plenty of time and introduce yourself to the host / organiser. Once you have done that act like a host. People like hosts more because they make introductions and make people feel more comfortable. If you have a name badge wear it on the right. It is where the eyes go to when you shake hands. Your posture, the way you interact with others, the way you engage in conversation, the common language that you speak (from your earlier research) are all things that will help to differentiate you from everyone else.
Be prepared Look for trios rather than pairs to break into. Pairs may be having an intense conversation involving a business deal. Make direct contact with one of the trio and when there is a pause in the conversation introduce yourself using your pre prepared lines. Ask questions about the group and aim for more listening than you talking.
One of the most common questions at a networking event is,”What do you do?” Be prepared and have a well practised answer ready. Ensure that you have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you different. If you are stuck use the following:
“I work with XYZ on finding solutions to ABC problems and the benefits clients get working with me are 123” and then state how you differ from Joe Bloggs.
Be a good conversationalist Resist the temptation to show your business card immediately. Engage in good conversation, and only then request his card after you have determined that he is a good prospect to do business with and he will probably request yours as well. Try to establish relationships rather than make a sale. Building a relationship first sells you to the prospect (a must for long-term success) and can open countless doors down the line.
Be clever When you have engaged in conversation and exchanged cards, make a brief note at the back of the business cards or use a notebook to jot down important points and to aid your memory. This is especially useful if you know that there is going to be a period of time between attending the event and taking action following the event.
Be sociable and mingle Be aware of the amount of time you spend with each individual / group. Too much time will reduce the amount of people who you are able to meet. If the conversation is getting drawn out and you need to move on… say, ‘I’m ready for some food’, ‘I need to find the loo, person B, my colleague…It’s been good to meet you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the event”. Remember if your objective is to speak to X number of people, you need to plan your time appropriately.
Be trustworthy If you said you were going to follow-up with an e-mail or telephone call do so. It shows respect and integrity and people are more likely to trust you if you carry out your promises. In exchanging business cards there is an underlying understanding that you have permission to contact the card holder. Send a follow-up email to say how much you enjoyed talking to them; refresh their memory in the services / products that you provide. Remember to add contacts to your database. Include them in your newsletter .
Networking is a long-term investment in your time and energy. Those who gain the most from networking are those who are the most generous with their time and willing to help other businesses make contacts. Once you are in an established network become visible. Become known as resource for others to turn to for suggestions, ideas, and names of people etc…it is a great way of raising your profile.
What are your experiences of networking? What tips can you share?