Essential Networking for Business Success
The mere mention of ‘Networking’ will elicit a different response, depending on your personal experience of networking. 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 ‘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.
Over the years, I realised that there is a definite purpose to networking, as I too have been hosting my own events for 10 years. Some people are definitely more adept at networking than others. However, it is a necessary business activity, and preparation is vital, especially for those who are slightly uncomfortable with the whole idea of networking. The first rule of preparation is to choose events that are appropriate to your need, in that the speakers are of interest, the 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?
Grooming is important and fresh breath essential. You will be standing, and often balancing a drink and a plate of canapés, whilst also clutching your handbag. I prefer those events where the waiters serve canapés and drinks to you throughout the evening. 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. Understand and respect personal space, being mindful to stand a couple of feet away from the person that you are speaking to.
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 as everyone usually gets the chance to introduce themselves, and it’s therefore easier to identify who you need to speak to.
· To meet with specific people (identified from the guest list prior to attending).
· 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 do it
· It is really important not to waffle. Practise 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.
· Practise 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 to, 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.
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 meet via networking events.
Yvonne Witter MA
Winner Business Woman of the Year Southwark 2009
Founder / Director Ampod Ltd