Many people think of networking events and sigh. If you’re not a natural extrovert, going into a roomful of people and marketing yourself can seem like climbing Mount Everest in flip flops.
Yet the ability to network is something that can be learned. It’s not about putting on a schmoozy mask and becoming a phony salesperson – these days it goes deeper than that. If you think about the sort of people you trust and like to do business with, chances are they will be sincere, interesting, friendly, supportive, knowledgeable and good at following up on opportunities.
Networking can be defined as developing and connecting contacts made in business for reasons beyond the initial contact. It’s about putting in place a plan that can help you to get to know people who may be interested in your business or – crucially – introduce you to someone who may be. So, if you’ve successfully completed a project for a client, try asking them to refer you on to others they know who might be interested in your skills.
It’s about being brave enough to get out there and start the conversational ball rolling. Yes, it can be scary, but networking isn’t about talking to all the people at an event that you know already.
Try our top tips for getting the best out of any networking event:
- Check out what’s going on in your area and make a list of the events that interest you. Try one new event every couple of months. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what they’re like.
- Make the most of your time at an event. Don’t head straight to your seat, take time to say hello and offer a comment on the weather / the speaking topics / the early start / how people got there.
- Take time to figure out what you want to achieve from each event. For some it might be business development. For others, you might want to learn more about the chosen topic. It keeps you focused and gives you answers if anyone asks you why you’ve chosen to attend that group.
- Know your own business before you walk in the door. Practice your elevator pitch a few times before you go in. Never assume people will know your company or what you do for a job – what will your response be if they ask how you got into what you do, who your suppliers are, if you know Joan from accounts. If you’re anxious about attending, taking time to think about questions people might ask you – and that you can ask them – will really help.
- Aim to come out of every networking session you attend with 5 new contacts. Never be embarrassed to ask for a business card. Then follow them up! Connect with them on LinkedIn, find them on Twitter, drop them an email to say how much you enjoyed meeting them, send them a link to the article you were talking about.
- Be generous. Networking is a two-way process. If you can’t help someone, but you know who can, take their card and put the two of them in touch. You’ll be remembered as the person who passed on a great referral, or who connected two people who needed the others’ skills.
- Don’t forget, everyone in the room is there for the same reason as you – to meet other people who might help them win work. The first time is terrifying. The second merely alarming. Imagine how you’ll feel in a year’s time if you walk in the door and people greet you by name – that’s what you’re aiming for. Have courage. Take a deep breath, and dive on in.