When I first started networking for my own business back in 2006 I took the ‘scatter gun’ approach. I filled up my pockets with as many business cards as they would hold, brushed my hair, slapped on a bit of lippy and went for it. Like a dealer in Vegas I was, doling out my business cards to anyone and everyone.
‘Surely’ I thought, ‘the more cards I hand out, the greater chance I have of finding some business…’
I was a little wet behind the (business) ears back then. I’ve come to realise since that this is by no means the best approach to business networking. Now, a little older, a little wiser, I’ve worked out that truly successful networking should be about building relationships not just merely racing around and collecting as many different business cards as one can. After all, anyone can attend a hundred different events and grab a business card from everyone else who is there – but how on earth can you spend any quality time talking to any of those people and finding out whether you might be able to work together?
No, that’s not the right approach. So let’s have a look at the best ways to get started and remain successful on the networking scene:
- It isn’t all about selling: Let’s be honest, every one of us gets a little turned off by someone who is always on the ‘sell’. So don’t be that person. Stop selling and take some time to listen. Talk to people, but try to ask them questions about themselves, their business, how things are going. Hopefully they’ll do the same to you and you’ll end up having a nice, informal conversation about business without the stress and pressure of trying to sell to one another.
- Do your homework: Try to find out who is attending the meeting you’re at. If there’s an attendance list have a quick glance and scout out a handful of people you’d really like to speak to. But don’t discount anyone simply on their job title or industry type – you never know where you might strike up a lasting business relationship. If at all possible try to find someone who you know or who knows a lot of people in the group. Chat to them and find out from them who it might be worth talking to. The best approach is to try and get that person to introduce you to people who you might have something in common with. The ‘warm’ approach is always better than a ‘cold’ one.
- Put in the time and effort: If you do find one or more people at an event with whom you have a common bond, don’t just dump them to go off business card collecting. As long as they’re comfortable too, (you wouldn’t want to be seen as a stalker) enter into some more in depth conversation about business, about how things are going, about the problems they might be having. If you know of someone who might be able to help them with a given problem, offer to pass on that person’s details. The majority of the time the best business comes from referrals and supporting your existing network or contacts is helpful to you, your new friend and the person you’re recommending. This all goes to demonstrate that you’re out to support fellow business people not just sell your own services.
- Keep in contact: After the event don’t just rest on your laurels and wait for business to roll in: stay in touch with any interesting people you met. Offer to refer business their way if you get the chance, drop them a line to ensure they have your contact details to hand should they need them. And don’t stop going to certain events just because you’ve already met most of the people there. Look upon repeat meetings as a way to catch up on each other’s businesses and continue the relationship building process.
- Make yourself known: OK so it can be embarrassing to have to wear that sticky name badge (even worse if you didn’t pre-register and it’s a hand written one), but resist the temptation to hide it away under a scarf or a lapel. Picture the scene. You’re at a networking meeting and someone you recognise walks in. You vaguely remember that they might be of interest to you but you can’t remember their name. So you studiously avoid them throughout the whole event for fear of getting into a cringe-inducing awkward moment with them. There goes that potential opportunity – and all because neither one of you had worn your name badge properly. A simple solution to a common problem.
- Don’t be a wallflower: Networking might not be your thing (goodness knows it was never mine until I started up my own company) but, unless you’re counting on pure luck, magic and spit to bring business through your door you’re going to have to give it a go every now and again. So just go for it. Don’t be the quiet one in the corner, clutching your buffet plate with plastic glass holder attached, nursing a warm glass of wine wondering why no-one is coming over to talk to you. Put on the game face, get out there and get chatting. Even if it’s just about the venue, the weather, the buffet (or lack thereof). Spark up a conversation and who knows where it will lead you.
- Be an ambassador for your business: This may sound obvious: that’s what you’re there for, right? But it’s easier than we sometimes think to slip into our ‘personal’ selves if we get too comfortable (more of a danger when there’s wine on offer at these things) and perhaps become a little more gregarious than our business alter-ego would approve of. It’s important, at all times, to remember that you hold the reputation of your business in your hands when you’re out and about representing it. Do it proud. Do it justice. Don’t make it slink home like an embarrassed teenager whose Dad has just turned up and performed a ‘Dad dance’ at its 18th birthday party. Trust me, it’s not a good look!
What pearls of networking wisdom have you stumbled across in your time as a networker? What’s holding you back from getting out there and spreading the word? Why not share your best and worst networking experiences right here?