Tips for the reluctant networker.
I was at a networking breakfast last week and I am attending the Women in Business NI Annual Conference on Thursday. Whilst networking, I meet both seasoned networkers and also new recruits to the process. Some of whom appeared to be totally in their comfort zone and others who appeared to be like fish out of water.
Love it or hate it – networking is a necessary evil.
I used to hate networking, probably due to a couple of rather grim events I had experienced in the past. However – when I changed my mindset – I soon realised that networking is not only, terribly worthwhile for the entrepreneur, but it can also be ( ahem ) … fun.
I have attended a number of networking events over the years – to varying degrees of success; so I have managed to develop some tried and tested approaches that tend to work quite well for me, and perhaps they can help you too.
What is your intention?
I have learned that by going to an event with a goal in mind, you’re more likely to get more out of the experience. I often attend an event with the intention of creating friendships. I like getting to know the person as a whole rather than just their business persona – and as a result, these relationships tend to be longer lasting.
The benefits of Networking – Points to consider.
For me, networking is really about creating new opportunities.
Networking has indeed, brought me new clients; but it has also provided me with a great support network of both business colleagues and friends. I have met some great people who are only too willing to offer practical support and advice – and I have also met others who have given emotional support and encouragement when I needed it.
Networking with like-minded individuals has boosted my confidence and given me the support that I needed when the self-belief begins to falter.
Public speaking : I have agreed to guest speak at a few events, something that used to be totally out of my comfort zone. My first time, I agreed to speak, because I wanted to support the event host. The bonus with presenting is that you are being heard ( hopefully ) by everyone in the room, something that conventional 1-2-1 networking conversations are unlikely to guarantee.
First Impressions count : Eye contact and a firm handshake really do speak volumes. Let’s face it – they create a good impression. Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person is constantly peering over your shoulder trying to see who else is in the room? My thoughts are – if they aren’t able to give me their full attention now – the situation is not likely to improve. It’s best to let them go and just move on.
Be interested in the Person and not the Business Card : One colleague I attended a network event with, came back with 25 business cards; saying how thrilled she was with the “haul”. However, she did not appear to know much about the people whom she had ‘met’. I, on the other hand came back with only 3 cards :
a ) I could not help the first person directly – but I managed to put her in contact with another colleague whom I knew would have the right answers and solutions to her problems.
b ) The second person went on to become a client – but only having met with them a number of times at similar networking events, gradually building the connection and the trust.
c ) The third person, I have now partnered up with in a professional capacity. Again this was after nurturing our relationship over a number of months – she is also a mighty fine golfer.
I say this – not to say who’s approach is right or wrong – but to highlight that the success of the desired result all depends on the intention. Perhaps one is to build an email list and the other to build connections.
Listen : In last week’s post, I discussed the merits of listening. It is so important. If we know what other people are looking for and what their requirements are then how great if we can help out … even if it doesn’t involve a direct sale for ourselves. It pays dividends to be known as a facilitator as well as a networker.
Have fun : Networking can be a bit of a drag; especially if you don’t come into it with the right attitude. I believe that to meet up with others of the same ilk, and to have a laugh in the process, very often forges stronger relationships and friendships.
I remember one early experience, where the network host greeted me by thrusting a cup of coffee in one had and a list of the organisation’s T&Cs into the other hand. I was then instructed of the rules : I must pay the enrolment fee of £x hundred a year, I must attend a certain number of events, I must give business to all the other members of the group within a number of months … I didn’t ever go back.
Don’t try to impress : I used to do this – but I used to leave the events exhausted. I soon learned that the best way I could sell myself – was to be myself ( warts and all ). Whilst being yourself, do try to appear confident and interested – nobody wants to talk to the wallflower in the corner.
Be Prepared : Have you got your Elevator Pitch ready? There’s nothing worse than a tongue-tied message. Make sure however, it’s not too rehearsed – as a genuine conversation always wins hands down.
Also, don’t forget your business cards – you’d be amazed how many people do. ( moo.com provide fantastic cards and the prices are great )
Master the art of small talk : How to open up the conversation.
The more you can start conversations with others – the more effective you will be at networking. It doesn’t have to be business related and we don’t always have to start the conversation with exclamations about the weather.
a ) Find something to talk about – What keeps you busy outside work ?
b ) Start with an Exclamation – I’ve just given up chocolate – it took half an hour.
c ) Talk about current topics – though perhaps keep it light hearted.
d ) Tell a story – a great icebreaker – especially if it’s based on personal experience.
e ) Ask questions – What do you love most about what you do? What one thing would you do if you think that you could not fail? What one thing can you not live without?
Master the art of small talk : How to end the conversation.
This is often harder than opening the conversation in the first place. A couple of polite comments that are unlikely to offend are :
“It’s nice to have met you – and I will leave you to network with other people.”
“Here’s my card – please let me know if I can be of assistance to you.”
Also other comments that facilitate your escape ( should you need one ) might be a call to make or the need to more refreshments.
I think the secret is not to get disheartened. Confidence and familiarity with networking comes with practice and experience. The keys to networking are in building relationships and opportunities for you and your business. Connections have to be built upon gradually and with patience. In this day and age we all prefer to do business with people we like and trust; and those factors are built over time.
So go out – have fun – and good luck.
If you are needing a bit more assistance in building your confidence and self-belief – give me a call – I can help.
Much Love 💕