When we think of networking, we might think of the saying, “It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.”
I prefer to think that what you know helps to expand whom you know. However, the importance of good networking cannot be understated. Building up a circle of influential contacts within your field creates opportunities, provides chances to learn and even helps to market both your business and your personal brand.
Networking is building relationships and is a natural part of business, but it is an area many in which many people struggle. If you are a naturally reserved individual, it can feel intimidating, and you may well feel that you have little to offer. Let’s discuss some ways to making your networking experience fruitful and productive.
Always do your research. No matter whether it is an industry organisation meeting, a trade show, an informal business luncheon or a LinkedIn group, some opportunities will work for you and others will not. You want to take some time to get a sense of what a particular group does, whether it is supportive of its members and whether the group shares a similar approach to yourself.
Do not feel obliged to throw yourself in every networking opportunity, because each one requires a time investment. You want to invest wisely so do a little bit of research and try and find out as much as you can before committing to a group.
Eventually, we all encounter “that guy” – the individual who believes that by spinning fanciful yarns about his achievements and experiences he can woo people. Not only do such stories rarely hold up under scrutiny, but they also provide the single most powerful insight into that guy’s character – he is out for himself.
Good networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships. Even if you are just starting out, be honest about it. There will be people who want to help you, who want to work with you. If you cannot impress somebody with your accomplishments, instead impress them with your enthusiasm and personality. People want to work with people. “That guy” is nothing but a fictional character.
Do not always offer your business card. However, do always ask for somebody else’s. If someone asks for your business card, that is great, but do ask for theirs in return. It is a simple gesture, but it goes right back to the mutually beneficial relationship aspect of business networking.
If you ask for somebody’s card, then out of politeness they may very well ask for yours. If somebody asks you for a card, even if only out of politeness, he or she are much less likely to bin it than if you offer it to them unsolicited. It also has to be said that offering somebody an unwanted business card is much like signing them up for your newsletter because you have their email address – poor etiquette.
Phone – Silent
At any event, your phone must be on silent. If you are speaking with someone and your phone rings, there is no positive outcome. If you ignore the phone, you look like somebody who does not care about potentially important calls. If you excuse yourself to answer the phone, then you look like someone who does not care about the person with whom you were speaking.
Keeping your phone on silent avoids this. You can always check for missed calls in between conversations. Ensure that if you do need to return a call, you go somewhere private to do it.
Talk to Strangers
Even if you are at an event with a host of people from work, make an effort to speak with strangers. You should not rely on your coworkers or friends to introduce you. Making an effort to present yourself gives the impression of confidence. It can also be a way to meet and talk with people that you would not have met if you had stayed in your circle.
When speaking, opt for open-ended questions. The common “What do you do?” is not going to cut it. It is too easy to answer, and if you cannot think of an immediate follow-up question to the answer, then you risk cutting a potentially valuable conversation short. You should also develop the art of small-talk, as well. People can grow weary of discussing their work all the time, so some well-managed chit-chat can help you stay in their mind as a person that they liked.
Do Not Sell
When you find someone who you can tell is after services just like the ones you offer, it can be so tempting to pitch to them on the spot. However, again, networking is about building relationships, and very few relationships start off well with an unsolicited sales conversation.
If they invite you to discuss your business, then have a short “elevator style” pitch prepared. If they do not, instead, ask for their card and wait a few days. Drop them a short email, mentioning that you enjoyed meeting with them and hope to speak again. If they respond in kind, then you can look to arranging a follow-up meeting to offer some services.
Never assume that because you have their card, or that you had a good chat, that you can pitch to them or use them as a business resource. Make sure that they’re inviting you to do so.