Networking for your business can seem daunting. Walking into a room full of strangers can feel nerve racking but with the right strategy and tactics you can feel more confident in building new relationships and you can even start to enjoy it!
Here are my top tips on how to get the most from your networking:
1. Know what networking can do for your business
When you go into a networking scenario knowing what you want to get out of it, you’ll be more likely to come away satisfied and feel like doing it again next time. Not sure what your goals are? Here are some of the ways networking can help your business:
Networking can help you discover great local suppliers, retailers or logistics partners who can enhance your business – and vice versa.
Meet a mentor
If you’re just starting out, or you’re a sole trader you may benefit from a sounding board for work-related matters. Networking can help you with this.
Boost your sales
Networking events aren’t primarily about sales opportunities, but they can definitely net you some new clients if the fit is right.
Build brand awareness
Getting your name known means you’re more likely to be recommended or referred to a wider network of people – another good reason for making networking connections.
2. Remember what you have to offer
Don’t just go into a networking event focused on how you can benefit – think about what you can give other people in exchange. You might have specialist knowledge to share, give them a fresh perspective on a business challenge, or be able to introduce them to connections that could help them even if you can’t.
If you think about networking as a quid-pro-quo dynamic rather than a chance to sell yourself, you’re more likely to make authentic and lasting connections.
Everyone remembers people who are helpful and interested in what they have to say. The ones who are just asking for things? Not so much.
3. Get prepped before you network
If you’re attending a networking event, have a look at the list of people invited, and check out the social media coverage of previous events. This will help you get a flavour of the experience in advance, and can help with things like deciding what to wear and what to bring with you.
Have plenty of up-to-date business cards at the ready. There’s virtually no networking occasion where exchanging cards isn’t appropriate.
Prepare an elevator pitch
This is a one-sentence statement about who you are and what you do – for example, ‘I’m a business coach and I help first-time entrepreneurs launch startups’, or ‘I’m a new design graduate starting out in freelance’. An elevator pitch makes introductions quick and easy when you’re meeting a lot of new people in a single event. Make it memorable and no longer than 30 seconds.
Have an exit strategy
However well you’re getting on with the person you’re talking to, at some point you will both want to move on and speak to other people. Make this as smooth as possible by having a phrase prepared. Try something like ‘I’ve really enjoyed meeting you. I’d better chat to a few other people before I head home’ – or something similar, which suits your personal style.
Follow up with a timely email
After your event, send emails to the people you’ve made promising connections with. Include a reminder of what you talked about and suggest meeting up again, if that’s something you want to do. A specific invitation is more likely to get results than a general ‘let’s stay in touch’. Email them within a couple of days of the event, when the conversation is likely to still be fresh in their mind.
Avoid your comfort zone
Attending a networking event with friends or colleagues can make things less nerve-wracking, but it also cuts down the possibility of making new connections, which is what you’re there to do. If you’re attending an event in a group, make a point of spending time without them and seeking out new people.
Another thing to limit is time spent looking down at your phone – an easy way to miss out on a life-changing business connection.
4. Know where to find networking opportunities
Networking opportunities pop up all over the place – here are just a few types of events and situations where you can put your networking mojo to work.
Social networking – the clue’s in the name! Sites tailor-made for business, such as LinkedIn, give you multiple ways to connect with people working in your industry, and get introductions from people you know. There are also newsfeeds and forums where you can get join discussions and exchange knowledge on topics related to your field.
Attending an informative conference can be a great business investment in itself, and the chance to network is the icing on the cake. Most conferences include some time for socialising and networking over coffee, drinks or meals. The best part is that you’ve got a ready-made ice-breaker in the form of the talks you’ve just been attending.
Finally, I like to think that networking is just about starting conversations and building relationships, if we don’t overcomplicate it, networking can feel less scary and when its done right, it can lead to great things!