Many of you might read the title of this article and sigh… Networking can feel quite time-consuming, tedious, and draining and for those for whom it hasn’t worked in the past, re-entering the networking scene can feel a bit like diving back into the dating pool – only this time, it’s your livelihood that’s on the line! But networking doesn’t have to be complicated, boring, or scary. Fundamentally, networking is about forming and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships. It may not necessarily be easy, but isn’t your new business worth the effort? With the following tips in mind, you’ll be a networking star in no time. British mum and Managing Director of Vital Corporate Solutions, Amanda Perry explains how:
Shift your mindset
Many people go to networking events thinking about how they can win business. Instead, you need to think about what you bring to the table, like how you can connect your fellow networkers to their best prospects. You’re not abandoning your objectives, but you are showing people that you’re in it for the long haul. That means you’re trustworthy and reliable (and so are your products and services). With a giving rather than receiving mindset, you can go into a networking environment with the intent to help others, such as connecting someone to an ideal client. Keep in mind that you’re not there to close a deal – you’re there to build relationships. Imagine the scenario of most people going to a networking event with the intent to buy rather than to sell ….
Sow the seed
It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for someone who’s ready to buy your product or service on the spot. Business is about increasing revenue, and who wouldn’t want to see an uptake right away, especially when there are bills to pay? However, this way tends to yield fewer results and doesn’t help you build a long-term client base or brand reputation. Rather than focusing on immediate gain, create trust and rapport with people who you can help (and who could help you in return). It’s all about building mutually beneficial relationships, remember? Your generosity will be returned by and through the networks that you have built and continue to build. And remember, most people do not like to be sold at!
Cast a wide net, but not too wide
First, ask yourself the all-important 3 questions: ‘Who are my best prospects?’, ‘Where can I meet my best prospects?’ and ‘Who, exactly, do I want to meet?’ These questions help you narrow your focus and give you a networking mission so that you’re not wandering through an event without a game plan. Of course, business networking happens across numerous avenues and platforms. You don’t want to spend too much time meeting new people and not enough time cultivating relationships. That’s why you need to focus on groups and events that will give you stronger contacts. You can weed through groups by seeing which work with your game plan. And, of course, look the part before going to any event (business casual at the least) and make sure your body language sends the right message (a smile sans crossed arms is a good place to start).
Here’s where it all comes together. Just like any event with a decent number of people, your aim shouldn’t be to meet every single person there. Instead, limit your number of contacts per event so that you can cultivate relationships with people you can help and who can help you. It’s tempting to try to pitch to everyone in the room, but that’s a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall – sure, some may stick, but it’s a mess that doesn’t help you. So, pick a few fellow networkers and focus on them. However, try to spend roughly five to ten minutes talking to each person. This will give you an opportunity to connect without overly focusing on one single contact. The people that you have chosen should get enough time to listen to your pitch and give theirs. To help you remember specific details when you follow-up with your contacts, write notes on the back of each business card. And to avoid creating a ‘business card graveyard’, scan them into your phone using one of the many apps available or just use a good old-fashioned business card folder.
As you make your mark on the business world, it’s time to get out there and give networking another go. The relationships you develop through networking are what help you grow your business. So, instead of the occasional one-off networking night, embrace networking for what it is – an opportunity to build a reliable professional network that can help your business for years to come. Now, don’t you think that’s worth it?