Networking is when you connect or interact with people – not to sell – but to educate on what you do and the value you can offer and bringing people that you know, who don’t know each other, together for mutual gain! Being able to connect with people is a skill, but can be learnt and developed.
So, let’s look at doing it effectively:
1. Have a Plan
Think about who will be at the event. What are you trying to achieve by going? Are you looking to widen your network to incorporate different industries as you tend to mix with similar trades/industry people? Are you looking to connect with people/experts who have the same or similar clients to develop a referral source? At worst – I’m getting five cards and then I can leave!
2. Arrive Early
…or at least on time – getting there first allows you time to vet the room as people arrive. It also means you may well hear a few names repeatedly and therefore remember them better!
3. Go Over and Talk to People
If you’re nervous about this, look for someone who seems lost. I usually try to avoid asking what people ‘do’ immediately. I’ll talk about the weather, building, ease of parking etc. This gives me a gauge of how chatty and forthcoming the person is. Then, when I ask what they do, I can hopefully link it to something else they have said – helping build a connection! And be the one who asks questions – try to be interested rather than interesting. My top tip here is to connect them to their feelings. When they tell you something, ask a follow-up question. What do you like most about…? That sounds amazing…how did that feel? You must be quite confident to… Highlight how you are similar to them or have experienced something similar as this will increase their sense of connection to you – be conscious though of not dominating too much of the conversation.
4. Ask for Their Card
It’s a great way to show interest and see if they are interested in you by asking for yours! If they don’t ask for yours, you can still get around that by saying “Let me give you my card!”.
5. Introduce People
Assert yourself as a connector by introducing people ” Bill, meet Sally. Sally has just begun and an interior design company and designed…” Bill will have no idea you have just met Sally and will think you are well connected. Sally will see you as someone who listens.
6. Take a ‘Wing-Man’
If you go to an event, work as a team. Don’t stand together, but be prepared to call the other over and introduce them as a credible expert. Having someone else sing your praises before introducing you instils an enormous amount of trust. Not convinced? Have you ever read an online review and decided to either buy or not buy because of what that stranger said?
7. Have a Follow-Up System
What are you going to do once you have met someone? When I first started networking, I would come home with a stack of cards (as I was interested in people) and put them in a box. Four weeks later I wondered why that person I chatted with hadn’t got in touch! Networking clearly didn’t work…No. I didn’t know how to work it!
Now I have a system, people who I really want to pursue a connection I email the following day and share something with them (a blog post, article, name of someone, document etc. that I either spoke to them about or that I can link to something they spoke about). No selling – just giving! If I’m not super keen, and let’s face it, the conversation may not have gone deep enough in the time/environment, then I follow up within a week. I schedule time every Friday as my follow-up and re-connection day, to schedule some coffee dates between the following week’s clients.
Networking is a longer game – you are unlikely to walk out of an event with three new clients. But you can develop connections that may well over time result in significant amounts of closed business. This is the beauty of groups that meet regularly. The group members begin to know each other and gain trust in each other!
If you are a reluctant networker, this could be an ideal way for you to build on your skills, with the support of familiar faces around you.
As with all relationships, if you just expect to receive from the group without putting in, you will lose their goodwill. View it more as a way to develop connections, and if I help you, then you will be more inclined to help me! Maybe you can even walk out with three new clients?
As a very well-known networking group say ‘Givers Gain’.
About the Author
Jo is an educator. She worked in Educational Leadership for over 15 years in government primary schools in Australia and the UK. Her personal experience of toxic workplaces, mental health issues and eventually her ‘burnout’, gave rise to a new form of education for Jo. She now shares her knowledge speaking on stage nationally and works with companies on their teams and leadership skills to address mental health within the workplace, engage employees and promote a culture where the people of the business are put up front and centre. Jo believes that the truly successful businesses of the future will be those that know how to create meaningful relationships and connections with their staff and customers – that put people first!