“It’s alright for you”, said a client recently, “you’re a networking pro.”
“Well that might be now,” I replied, “but it wasn’t always so.”
to some of us it’s the most natural thing in the world. To others it’s a minefield.
And casting my mind back to that lunchtime in 2008 – oh how things may have turned out so very differently if I hadn’t walked through those double doors!
I’d been invited to a Nottingham City Business Club lunch and didn’t expect I’d know anyone other than the person who had invited me (and I knew there would be a room full of people). I’d spent an unnecessary amount of time in the loo fixing my lipstick and summoning up some courage. It had been so many years since I’d done anything like this my confidence was really lacking. Taking a deep breath, I opened the double doors and went in.
They say each journey begins with a first step and this was certainly one of those journeys.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was invited to join the Club’s council and from there I became Club President. I’ve done a lot of networking over the years, and I can promise that, however nervewracking it may seem, it’ll stand you in good stead if you’re trying to build your business or further your career.
Essentially, effective networking is about being an excellent communicator and all-round good person.
My top networking tips
There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re really getting the best out of your networking:
- Listen carefully. Get people to talk about their favourite subject – themselves. Try preparing a series of questions (but avoid being scripted). This will help you build a rapport and keep the lines of communication open.
- Be yourself. You don’t need to change who you are to be an excellent networker, but you should care about how you are perceived.
- Watch for conversational cues. This will help you know exactly when to ask a question, inject a comment or smile, say thanks, or graciously take your leave.
- Smile. This is a simple and often-mentioned tactic for networking events, because it’s effective. Unfortunately it’s also easy to forget in the whirlwind of action at a conference or event.
- Name check. Another quick way to build rapport with someone is to call them by their first name. Usually people wear name badges at events, so you don’t need to worry about remembering them all.
- Avoid the hard sell. Effective networking isn’t about shameless self promotion. It’s about meeting people and spreading the word.
- Know your self worth. It’s easy to think – especially when we’re less experienced or in the presence of those much more established than we are – that we have nothing to offer. Be confident that’s almost never the case. Be humble enough to offer what you can. Sometimes it’s a perspective that you’re uniquely qualified to give. Perhaps it’s a connection you’d be glad to make. It could be as simple as forwarding an article that would make a highly relevant and useful read for the other person.
- Remember to show your appreciation. Everyone loves a person who is sincerely grateful for their time, advice and constructive criticism and it’s always a bonus when you get it in written form—maybe an email or a handwritten note.
I’ve learned over the years that networking is a necessary part of building a business or getting ahead in a career. For most people, time is of the essence, so it’s a good idea to plan your networking carefully. Make a list (we all love lists!) highlighting why you want to network and what benefits you think it could bring. You can refer to your list then when you’re trying to decide if it’s worth attending an event.
Finding the right events
You know yourself. Don’t set a goal of attending three events a week if your schedule and mind can’t handle it. Maybe you could start off with one event per month to get yourself used to the idea. You can even decide how long you are going to be at an event and how many people you are going to speak with.
If you’re new to this type of activity choose things you’ll enjoy as you’re more likely to get results (I often pick events with an interesting speaker). Look for events that fit for you and your personal situation. For example, if you have more energy in the morning, then breakfast events might be for you.
Getting involved with a group or committee is a great way to meet people. Choose wisely and this can help your business or career immensely.
Remember why you do what you do. Sometimes events can drain our energy and we can forget to show how passionate we are. Find a way to tap into that passion even when you are tired. You never know when you’re speaking with someone who could be a great connection or client if they feel you believe in yourself and what you do.
The five ‘fs’
I always tell people to remember the five ‘fs’ – family, friends, friends of family, family of friends and friends of friends (yes it’s a tongue twister!).
These can be valuable business connections too, are often willing to help and can give you great word-of-mouth recommendations.
Your networking checklist
- Have a good business card.
- Make sure your social media / online presence says about you what you want people to read.
- If you use sites like LinkedIn make sure your profile is complete and up to date.
- Know your pitch – practise it till it feels natural and not scripted. Mix it up a bit and have different variations to suit different situations.
- Remember, networking is a great way of getting people talking about your business without having to spend money on marketing.
- Never underestimate anyone you meet – a contact is a contact.
Networking can be difficult to prioritise when you’re busy, but if you plan it into your schedule then it will soon become part of your working life. You’ll meet some interesting people along the way, too.