Our guide to networking effectively
Networking is both an art and a science. It is a skill that all successful business people possess and make use of and it remains as critical a skill now as it has always been. Just because you spent half (or more) of your life staring at a screen (big or small), it doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how to network. The networking process is exactly the same, whether it starts online or offline, formally or informally. As we have our first networking event since lockdown in just a few day’s time, here is our to effective networking guide for before and during the event (after is in our next blog)…
Before the event
Most business networking happens at organised events, so this guide will use these to structure this blog and we’ll make it clear what changes for more informal networking.
1. Find out who is going
Whilst some networking event organisers don’t make a delegate list publicly available, many do. When you can see the list, have a look through it and identify those people you would really like to meet. These can be divided down into:
- People you already know
- Those who could become prospects
- People who could be great introducers
- Potential suppliers
Whilst you may not get a chance to talk to everyone on your list, you don’t want to lose too much time talking to random people who may, or may not, be useful connections. We’re not saying don’t talk to random people, we are saying the more you can plan your networking, the more effective it will be.
2. Who else could go?
Most networking events aren’t capped at maximum number of attendees, so unless there is a closing date for bookings, think about who you know who may be interested in attending. Depending on the type of event and the mix of people attending, making others aware can win you brownie points and help you develop your relationship with that person.
Just imagine that you invite a client who then meets someone who becomes a great client for them….
3. Start networking early
There is nothing in the rules of networking that says you must wait until you walk in the room to start networking. If you have already identified a number of people you want to meet, reach out to them beforehand. By starting that process early, you not only maximise the chance that they will attend (because they have said they will be there to you), you are getting a headstart on others who would also like to meet those people.
4. Develop your pitch
Unless it is something formal where a 60 seconds is expected, you don’t need a whole pitch and call to action, but you do need a few lines that will grab the attention of the people you talk to. Concentrate on the value you provide, on the results you deliver and the issues you help your clients with. FORGET the “I am an [insert job title and industry sector] line. Nobody cares and you aren’t making yourself memorable.
“I’m an accountant” is far less memorable than “I saved my clients £XXXXX in corporation tax last year”
5. Remember your stories
In the same way that you don’t want to use your job title in your introduction, you also don’t want to tell people how you do what you do. Pull together a list of stories that clearly show how you help your clients and the results you deliver. The more stories you have, the easier it is to pick the relevant ones to use when talking to people. Make sure they are succinct.
6. Plan how to get there
Formal networking events will have a schedule. Being late for them is not a good idea. The last thing you want is to have to walk to your seat whilst everyone is watching you. “Oh yeah, you’re the person who arrived 20 mins late” is not the way you want to be remembered.
When you are networking
As we’ve mentioned before, networking can take place anywhere. The golf/tennis/squash club are the places everyone traditionally thinks as where many people do business, but you may get talking in the queue at Starbucks or the supermarket. Here’s the next stage of our effective networking guide.
7. Dress appropriately
Whilst many networking events are fairly casual, if you’ve spent the morning tidying the warehouse, make sure you get changed before attending the event. It doesn’t matter whether you are in jeans, a dress or a suit, you should be clean, tidy and smart so you make a great first impression.
8. Ask for introductions
If you spent time researching the delegate list, make sure you ask the hosts to introduce you to someone on your list. Being introduced suggests a level or respect and recognition to the person you are being introduced to – and it saves you time staring at name badges (if they are being used).
9. Look out for lonely people
Whilst we did say earlier that you don’t want to lose time talking to random people, you should make an effort to talk to those who are struggling. We have all been there. It’s your first networking event and you don’t know anyone or what to say. Be a friend and help them. You don’t have to spend the whole event with them and you can always introduce them to someone else so you can further work the room.
You never know, they may be on your list and they may be a route to your next biggest client!
10.Don’t butt in
If people are deep in conversation, don’t interrupt. Even if one of them is at the top of your list, you will not be looked upon kindly if you interrupt. Come back in a little while and use the time to talk to others.
11. Make a clear introduction
A good handshake (not too hard and, definitely, not too soft) and a clear introduction makes you seem confident, even if you aren’t. Smile too – people don’t want to talk to miserable people.
12. Listen first
Finding out about the person/people you are talking to really helps you become more effective. If you know what they do, what they are looking to achieve, you can be more relevant:
- Use the right introduction lines
- Tell the right stories
- Offer to make relevant introductions to people you know
The old Sales adage is about using your ears and mouth in proportion to the number you have. It works in sales and it definitely works when you are networking.
13. Be succinct
Use the lines and the stories you developed beforehand to help the person/people you are with understand why they should talk to you again. But don’t take too long about it. Nobody likes a person who hogs the limelight.
14. DO NOT TRY TO SELL
This point cannot be overstated. If you take one thing from reading this article, it should be this one. If you try to sell to people in your very first conversation, all you are going to do it put them off. Even if what you sell is low-risk and low-cost, you don’t know if they want it or need it, so don’t try.
15. Don’t outstay your welcome
Whether networking at a party, the golf club or at our next Thirsty Thursday networking event, remember why you are there. You want to meet plenty of people and you want to make a good impression. Hanging around like a lost puppy will not enable either.
16. Collect their details
You cannot follow up if you haven’t got at least a phone number and email address. We’re assuming you have business cards, whether that is a wad of paper cards or just one NFC-based business card, such as those produced by V1CE.
Everything in this section applies to all forms of networking. It doesn’t matter whether you meet someone in the supermarket queue, online or at BNI, at least 7 of the last 9 tips are relevant.
Effective networking will generate leads, and other connections, for your business, but only if done properly. Whilst this list of 16 points seems, at first glance, onerous, most of it is common sense and manners. Networking is not a shortcut to sales opportunities and should never, ever, be treated as such. When the rules of networking are followed, you will get the sales opportunities; you just have to be patient.
We hope our effective networking guide helps and we look forward to seeing you at our next networking event.