The mere mention of ‘Networking’ will elicit a different response, depending on your personal experience of doing it. Some people who dread ‘Networking’, wail, “Oh, I can’t just walk up to strangers and start chatting!” or “I would not know what to say!” they exclaim.
Some people feel a little embarrassed to take that first step, smile, and with outstretched palm say “Hello” to a complete stranger. What often happens is that people attend business networking events with a friend.
The friend as a ‘security blanket’ makes you feel better and it’s a great opportunity to catch up face to face instead of via social media. So whilst it releases the anxiety of being ‘alone’ in a room full of strangers, this kind of strategy defeats the whole purpose of being there. I know, because years ago I used to do it too. I would only meet those that were brave enough to interrupt my animated conversations with my ‘friend’. I had no defined goals or strategy and couldn’t quite see the point of it all.
Why Network in Person when you can surf around on social media?
I soon realised that there is a definite purpose to networking, as I too had been hosting my own events for 10 years. Some people are outgoing and gregarious and can be more adept at networking than others who are less so. However, just swanning around chatting is not the same as planning and targeting. Preparation is vital, because people buy from people, making that personal connection and liking each other is a guaranteed referral and most often sales too.
The first rule of preparation is to choose events that have relevance to your business. Factor in if the potential attendees are people that you can sell to or, who might be interested in buying from you. Ask yourself if the event will attract attendees with whom you might want to become business associates, to strengthen your own sphere of influence?
Personal grooming is important and fresh breath essential. You will be standing, and often balancing a drink and a plate of canapés, and ladies, whilst also clutching your handbag. If you are prone to speaking quickly, then speak slower, so that you can be understood. Never speak with food in your mouth. Avoid jargon, swear words and topics of controversy such as the death penalty, politics, pornography, or abortion, you get my drift. Understand and respect personal space, being mindful to stand a couple of feet away from the person that you are speaking with.
Networking is essential to the micro business owner, who is reliant on good client relationships and referrals, in the absence of sophisticated marketing plans with large budgets attached!
Having an end goal in mind is essential. There are different types of networking events, and small groups are easier to navigate, as everyone usually gets the chance to introduce themselves, and it’s therefore easier to identify whom you need to speak with.
· To speak with a defined number of people as a target.
· To distribute your contact information or promotional materials to a defined number of people
· To have an exhibition stand at an event to promote your goods and services
· Raise your personal profile.
· To meet a number of potential new customers.
· To acquire new business associates.
· To learn from experts
· To expand knowledge base in a particular specialism.
How to Network like a Pro
· It is really important not to waffle.
Practice your introduction before you leave home until you get used to saying who you are and what you do. Not your job or position title but what is the difference that you make. So, instead of “I am an accountant” try “I manage a budget of £30m for allied homes who provide affordable housing for low income families”.
· Remember to use open questions
(What, Why, How, Who, When, Where) this will encourage people to talk more freely especially if the subject is not too personal. A compliment on a handbag or personal item is a good one. It breaks the ice and is not intrusive.
· Practice your listening skills – very important to know how to be an active listener. Not to interrupt others in flow, and to respond to what has been said in acknowledgement, [nodding] or the seeking of clarification, or affirming what has been said, also suggests that you were paying attention.
Of course, the aim of networking is to see many people, so gracefully thank the person that you have been speaking with, with a polite offer to contact them again, [only if that is your intention] and exchange cards or contact information and move on.
Networking is about building relationships with people, so it is good practice to follow up next day by email or telephone call and start on building a relationship with the key people. Social Media is great but nothing beats that physical connection where you might find common interests and hobbies that create a solid relationship.
Practice makes it all the more easier, and after a while you will be churning over business based on referrals, and introductions from people you met at various networking events.
Yvonne Witter MA FCMI
Global Entrepreneurship Consultant
Winner Business Woman of the Year - Southwark 2009
Retired Founder Director Ampod Ltd www.ampod.co.uk
Churchill Fellow 2010
"I had to make my own living and my own opportunity! But I made it! Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!" - Madam C.J. Walker, creator of a popular line of African-American hair care products and America's first black female millionaire