How do you feel about networking? Do you see it as a great way of doing business or simply a waste of time? Do you invest time in networking or avoid anything that bears the label?
Over the years I’ve encountered avid networkers who rarely miss an event and others who are firmly of the opinion that networking doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the face to face variety or the newer social media there are some people who just think any form of networking is a waste of time. I beg to differ. So here are 12 of my top tips to make networking work for you. Why not hit the comment button and share some of yours?
- Smile! A smile costs nothing. It makes you look approachable and can ease you in to a conversation. I think a smile works virtually too. If all you ever do on social media is rant you are unlikely to win friends outside the grumpy brigade. People can ‘hear’ you smile in the way you participate online.
- Target. We could spend our entire days and nights networking. Decide what you want from your networking and then find groups or events that offer you that. You may be looking for customers or someone to help in your business. Be clear what kind of person you want to meet and ask the organisers if they will be present at the event.
- Listen. I think it was Larry King who said ‘I never learned a thing when I was speaking’. That’s really important when you are networking. Nobody likes someone who only talks about themselves so you won’t build relationships unless you listen to other people.
- Ask questions. Questions are a great way to manage a conversation so you find out what you need to know. They allow you to show that you are interested in your new contact but don’t spoil the impression by not listening to the answer. Look for ways in which you could help your new contact and I don’t just mean by selling to them.
- Build relationships. You know that saying, ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’, well the same applies to networking. Sometimes it can take years for a relationship to pay real dividends. I’ve just won some work from someone I’ve known 20 years! The time is right. I know that the relationships I have with people get my name and my events talked about even by people who haven’t yet bought anything from me.
- First impressions count. Try to keep your introduction to a tight couple of sentences that explain what you do and who you do it for. I sometimes use, ‘I offer training, marketing support and business advice to help people start and grow a small business. I also run a Business Dinner Club to connect business owners and freelancers.’ Keep it short and sweet and may be it will lead to a conversation.
- Follow up. Relationships are not built in one meeting. Ideally you want to add your new connections to your database but a follow up email or call is a good place to start. Use the opportunity to fix up a follow up meeting or ask for permission to add their names to the database.
- Keep your promises. We usually do business with those we know, like and trust so keep your promises so that you start to build trust. Follow up when you said you would, make the introduction you promised, invite them to that event you offered.
- Do nice things. Sending a copy of a relevant article, re-tweeting a message, posting a testimonial or pleasant comment doesn’t cost much but can be a great way to build relationships. Most people will remember your thoughtfulness and reciprocate when they can.
- Be generous. Sharing your knowledge, skill or contacts and even time can help establish your credibility and build relationships. Obviously there has to be a limit but I have found that generosity is usually repaid handsomely in one form or another.
- Use your business cards effectively. If you are a regular networker you will know how difficult it can be to remember the detail of all the conversations you have. There isn’t always time to make notes and sometimes that pile of business cards waits for ages before we have time to do much with it. So three weeks after the event you look at the card and think who was that? What do they do? Make sure your business card will answer those questions. Your business card should be your salesperson in print. It doesn’t cost much more to print on two sides rather than one so make use of all the space.
- Build networking into your marketing plan. As with any marketing you should have a plan for what you are trying to achieve linked to your business objectives. Maybe you want to sign people up to your database, perhaps you want to find a supplier you can trust or maybe you want to find someone you can do a joint venture with. Don’t expect sales to come from your first encounter. Push too hard and most people will get away from you as fast as they can. If you are using networking for prospecting, and most of us are, set your objective as adding people to your database or booking a follow up meeting.
Networking can be a lot of fun but without a target can be a great waste of time. Choose your events carefully. Decide what you want to achieve. Go and enjoy and if you have some tips or comments we’d like to hear them.