As presented to the Biznet Women In Business Program
People are always advising us that the best way to build your business is to get out and network. You’ve taken that advice literally, selected a networking function and now you’re wondering how to get the most out of the event?
Here’s 12 great tips on how to achieve networking success, right from your very first meeting.
1. Set a realistic goal
It’s a really important step to decide what you want to achieve from your networking function before you arrive. You’re going to meet plenty of new people, and meet up with some you have met before but haven’t had the chance to get to know. Don’t expect to form a great connection with absolutely everybody you meet – if you aim to make one genuine connection at each meeting then that’s a great outcome. If you kept this up at one new networking function per week, all year, you would make 50 strong connections throughout the year, every year. That’s bound to be enough new contacts to keep your enterprise busy.
2. Practice your elevator speech
If you walked into an elevator on the ground floor with the one person on earth you most wanted to connect with, how would you get your point across before the inevitable Ping! to announce that your audience was about to step out onto the 5th floor? You’d need to say who you are, what you do, what you want, and how they could contact you. You’d need to have a business card ready to hand over so they would have something to remember you by. But more importantly, you need to prepare so you’ll be able to seize the opportunity when it arises. This is your elevator speech. Practice it in front of the mirror, in front of your dog, in front of anyone who will listen until it becomes a part of you. Publish it on your website, print it on promotional items and get it out there. Most of all, practice it regularly so you can get the words out of your mouth with ease whenever you meet someone new.
3. Take your business cards
How often do you get your business cards reprinted? Every year? Every time you change your office or your phone number? Then you’re not using them efficiently. The more cards you give away, the more people are getting your message. Make a decision today to take them with you everywhere you go. Not only some of the time, everytime. Everyone you meet, everywhere you go, can become a great networking contact if you only prepare for the opportunity. Reorganise your life so that your cards are at the front door, they’re in the car, they’re in your wallet, your handbag or your brief case, ready to go. Don’t be afraid to say to people “Hang on to that card- you never know who you might need to give it to one day”.
4. Be Yourself
Generally, there’s two kinds of networking styles – the bolshy types who push their business card in your hand in a big fluster and tell you all about themselves before moving on – and then there’s the rest of us, who are a little more reserved, and need a bit of encouragement to open up with those they’ve never met. Most of us prefer networking with the second type, because it feels more genuine. None of us like being “sold” at. Don’t try to push yourself into being someone you’re not – people can sense a fake at 20 paces, and are not inclined to trust someone who comes across as self interested. You are most likely to connect with new people if you just act naturally and be yourself.
5. Double up
If you’re like most people, it may be difficult to talk about what you do with people you’ve just met. You can easily overcome this problem by buddying up with a friend who also wants to expand their network. When approaching a new person at the event, take turns in introducing each other and talking about each other’s good points – before you know it everyone will be so deep in conversation that your nervous butterflies will be flying out the window. Don’t take this as an excuse to stand around talking to your best mates at a networking event – make a point of NOT talking to those you already know until you have maximised every opportunity to meet new contacts.
6. Opening Gambit
What do you say after you’ve said hello? Not sure? OK, then practice your conversation starters before you go out. Many people are good talkers and poor listeners. For this reason, they are more inclined to feel comfortable when you are listening attentively. Start by saying, “Hi – my name’s Liz from Write4You.Biz, I don’t think we’ve met.” Then casually hand over your card while saying ”Tell me about yourself.” The more confident and comfortable you are with saying your name and handing over your card, the more they will be at ease with you, and it will give them a sense that it’s ok to hand over their card to you as well.
7. Share your knowledge
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from sharing your knowledge. Some people are very fearful of giving their knowledge away for free, and prefer to keep their hard earned industry tips close to their chest. But think of it this way – it’s a free advertisment of your products and services, with someone who is actively listening to what you have to say. It’s your chance to show that you are actually an expert on your subject, and what’s more, that you are approachable. People will then be more inclined to call you for a chat when an issue arises that you could help with. That’s how your networking contact turns into a client, or someone who refers clients to you.
8. Target the room
If you’re in real estate, you’re going to want to set up referral networks with associated industries, like lawyers, bankers, builders and town planners. So you will want to spend a lot of time at networking functions specifically looking for those who are going to be useful in populating your cross referral networks. If you’re a counsellor or therapist, you will gain most benefit from striking a rapport with massage therapists, doctors, divorce lawyers and natural health practitioners. Be on the lookout for these specific targets at every networking event. Don’t be afraid to ask “Who is the best client for you?”. This shows that you are already thinking of ways to share your client network with your new contact.
9. Differentiate your services
You are bound to come across others in the room who offer services in the same industry sector as you. If you’re a massage therapist, there’s a good chance you will find one of your competitors in the room vying for attention from the same audience. Turn this opportunity to your advantage by converting someone who may appear as an adversary into an ally, by having a conversation which shows where your services are different to theirs, and talking about ways you could swap clients. Your clinic may only operate on weekends and evenings – whereas your opposition may prefer home visits and morning sessions, which could be a great opportunity to expand BOTH of your networks.
10. Come back again, I’m just crazy ’bout you babe!
There’s not much point attending an event and telling everyone about what you do, then disappearing into the ether leaving nothing but a distant memory of that person who did something or other. If you really want to make an impression, get involved and come back again to another networking event as soon as you can. Ask the organisers if there is anything you can do to help out – like handing out name tags at the door, handing around food or stacking chairs after the event. This will give you something to do at the event and help you to feel a part of the group, at the same time as helping people to remember you. Handing around trays of food is a great excuse to say hello to absolutely everyone.
11. Follow up
You can’t possibly become best mates with absolutely everyone you meet. But you can be selective about who you are most likely to benefit from following up with. After every event, take time out from the rest of your life by sitting quietly and thinking over who you met, and who you are most interested in connecting with. Select a few contacts to send an email to, and pick perhaps one or two people to invite for a coffee catch up. If you are serious about maximising your networking, you can prepare a standard coffee invite that you send out a few days after the event, which is already scripted, ready to send on your computer. It might read something like, “It was lovely to meet with you at the recent networking event. I am very interested in exploring the potential for us to work together in a mutually beneficial way. Would you be available for a coffee near your office next Tuesday?”
12. Connect online
Face to face networking is a great way of expanding your online networks, so don’t forget to invite people to connect on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.