Networking is often seen in business as a “must”, but some of us find networking difficult, while others beneficial. So how can we make sure that we don’t waste our time going to networking events, and make sure that the networking we do take part in produces results?
First, what is Networking?
Networking is kind of a buzz word used simply to define a type of mutually beneficial relationship building, usually within a work sphere. You can attend networking events which are designed to facilitate these conversations, or you can “network” with friends, co-workers, colleagues and counterparts at social functions, conferences and events or simply within the workplace.
Networking relationships are based on reciprocity rather than being one-sided. There should be an exchange of ideas, leads, support and/or information and it should be something which can help stretch you personally and professionally.
But, when speaking with new people is difficult, how can you make networking work for your business?
Firstly, stop thinking about it as a chore, and start thinking about it simply as making “business friends”. This sounds a little twee, but it does help. All of the people you meet are an opportunity to build a relationship, even just lightly, which can support you, and you, them.
If you can’t stand the “so, what do you do?” question at networking events, perhaps start by asking a question of your own. This has two benefits: first – it changes the subject from work to personal and allows a new insight into that person. And, second – it gives you a little time to think about your response whilst they answer! Perfect if you are a bit nervous.
Here are some top tips for networking and for building relationships quickly:
Ask Open Questions (Who, What, When, Why, How) or, better yet, use “Tell Me”, “Explain” or “Describe” as openers (umbrella questions) – this is more likely to elicit a deeper response.
Start with common ground
This might be work or it might be a hobby or similar interest. Why not discuss the latest movie releases or a great documentary you have seen.
When you are networking you need to consider how you are bringing value to the conversation and how you can bring value to the relationship. Can you offer something to the other parties? How can you support them?
Those of you who have attended our Sales Bootcamp will know what we mean by this, but an elevator pitch is simply who you are, what you do and why you do it in a minute or less – the length of time you might be in an elevator. You should practice this and make sure you know how to tailor this to the people in front of you.
Look for at least 3 decent opportunities that you can follow up with. People who could support you or you support them.
Networking is great, but your relationship needs to move beyond the event or occasion you attended. Follow up with a personal email or LinkedIn connection – try to add something to your follow up which identifies you. Keep it light and invite to connect again.
Think about what you want
Before attending networking events, identify your goal. Do you want to get business from these relationships, are you looking for support, or are you simply looking to widen your gaze and learn new skills?
Ask for introductions
If you are shy, uneasy or just not sure, you can ask for an introduction to a networking event or even in person. You do, of course, need to have someone to introduce you but it’s a faster way to build connection with someone new if you have an introduction or referral. If all else fails, at least you have the old “So, how do you know so and so?” routine to fall back on!
What are your top tips for networking events? Are you not sure where to start? Comment below.