One of the most common topics of discussion at sessions of The Growth Academy is “Why should I network, where should I network”. Networking is a great way to meet new people, people who could become either a good source of referrals, a trusted associate, a great supplier or even a customer but it does need to be done properly and effectively otherwise it can become a drain on time and finances as well as soul-destroying!
Some people are just naturals at networking, others hate it with a passion and then there are people like Colin McKeand who is an icon in the East of Scotland networking circuit and much of what I now know about good networking comes from observing how he does it.
I have compiled a list of my key points on to network better and how to make the most of networking, most of the list is common sense but it does no harm to be reminded of things now and again does it?
1. Why you are there?
Networking shouldn’t be just about trying to find clients, there are many other brilliant reasons why meeting new business people can be beneficial. Different networking events are attended by different people, and at some of those events there will be people who are going to be of very little benefit to you. The time that you spend preparing for, attending and following up networking events is valuable so use it well and do some research. Find out what kind of companies attend, what the format is and be sure that you know what you want to achieve. You owe it to the other attendees as well, they will also have invested time and money in being there and that needs respecting.
2. Allow them to do the talking!
Nobody likes being talked at and everyone loves being listened to, so let the people you meet talk. This is not some kind of trick to draw them in! It also genuinely helps make networking more interesting and fun. You never know who the networker you are speaking will know, what benefit they could offer your business or what gem of information that they will spill that could help you decipher if there is a mutual benefit in following up. Of course, if you have both read this and take it too literally then you will end up with some kind of Mexican stand-off and that wouldn’t help anyone!
3. Business cards have no resell value!
How often have you run out of cards at an event? I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people make sure they bomb round the whole room and make sure everyone has one of their business cards. That is not an approach that is likely to be fruitful. You wouldn’t see a single guy run around a bar and hand his number to every female in the place? Or if he did, I suspect he wouldn’t get a whole lot of success! You should always try to make sure you give your cards to people who genuinely want to follow-up with, or who specifically ask for yours. I like using extreme examples just to prove a point and I know a guy who gave out over 1600 business cards at events over a 6 month period, I will let you guess how many calls he received…
4. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s!
What is the old cliché? “Time is money” well it is to be fair. If you are going to spend a couple of hours at a networking event you should consider what it is actually costing you. Take into account the ticket price, refreshments, time away from the office and travel costs and networking comes with a price, make sure you get value for that investment. The responsibility to get that value sits with you not the event organiser. Do your research and prepare, who is going to be there, who would you like to meet, what do you have to offer to that group and is the format something that suits your style. Once you are there make the best use of your time, make the effort to meet people and to interact, but try to avoid getting trapped in a corner with just one other person and losing an hour. It happens. Also try to avoid trapping someone as their time is just as valuable as yours. When having a 1-2-1 chat try to make sure your body language clearly demonstrates you are open to other people joining your conversation!
5. Dig Deep and find the Rapport!
It is not original to state that good relationships in business are vital, relationships are essential in all walks of life. When networking and in dialogue with someone new don’t just skim over the top of who they are and what they do, be prepared to try to really get to know them. It will probably take a follow-up call or coffee but digging deep is very much worthwhile. You never know who they know or what they know and unless you can find some common ground and build a rapport you are unlikely to never know. Never be dismissive of anyone you meet at a networking event!
6. Prepare and take it seriously!
I always find it amazing that this needs to be pointed out sometimes, and I so nearly left it off this list but I like round numbers and ten is better 9 so it made the cut! Prepare properly, give the networking event the same level of respect and attention that you would show an important business meeting. Double check the location and the time, is there anywhere to park? or how long is the walk from the train station? Is there a dress code? Will there be food provided? If not will you need to eat before or could you wait until afterwards? Can you get a guest list? Are any of your social media contacts attending? and finally, make sure you have plenty business cards. Personally I haven’t used business cards for a long while, I use Linked-In religiously to keep track of people I meet but this is one area where I wouldn’t recommend my method to everyone!
7. It’s great to be able to give before receiving!
Good networking should lead to great new business relationships and what better way to kick off a new business relationship than to give something away? Whether it is an introduction, a tip, a lead or just some solid advice doesn’t really matter but try to give something worthwhile to your new contact. It is important that this is not contrived however, it is important to keep it genuine and sincere. Any relationship needs to be two-way for it to succeed, and someone needs to take the initiative. Why shouldn’t that be you? ….A business card doesn’t count – see point 3.
8. Have loads of fun!
Meeting new people should be fun, networking is just meeting new people or catching up with old contacts and therefore it should be fun! Relax and enjoy it, you will get so much more out of the event. People like talking to people who are relaxed and smiling and if you are that happy smiling person you will attract more contacts. Pretty basic but very important. If certain formats don’t suit you, then don’t do them. Some people just aren’t morning people for example, me included! I once attended a group which meant a 6am start every Friday, I just couldn’t get going at that time of the day and I didn’t get as much from the group as the majority of the others did. I had to stop attending and now avoid such early starts. There are huge numbers of events every month in every city, there will no doubt be many that you will enjoy so why waste time on the ones you don’t?
9. Don’t leave them waiting by the phone!
Okay, so you have prepared, got there on time, allowed the other people to speak and took their business cards. Now, please do not forget to email them or call them, whichever one you promised to do. You would be stunned how many people do not bother! Send a short email the day after the event thanking them for their time and add them to your contact list. If there is a genuine reason to follow-up with a meeting, suggest one. If you have any contacts in your network who would be useful for them or vice versa then make the introduction. Hopefully this doesn’t sound like too much hard work, it shouldn’t be but the effort will be worth it.
10. Don’t waste the hard-work by forgetting who you met!
A vital part of networking is keeping track of your contacts and looking after the relationships you are building. As mentioned earlier I use Linked In to track my contacts but you could use a CRM system, Outlook or just keep the business cards you have been given in a file. Whatever method suits you best doesn’t really matter as long as you keep some kind of record. Periodically make the effort to contact each and every one of your contacts; a simple email, a Tweet or sending them a copy of your newsletter all tick the box but make sure you do something to maintain the network you will have worked so hard to build.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me or add a comment below, it would be great to hear any tips you may have to add!
Enjoy this blog post? Try one of the ones listed below, they are a little bit shorter….