Many people I know think of networking events with at best a degree of reluctance and at worst a feeling of absolute dread. However, whilst networking is something many us treat with trepidation, it’s an incredibly useful way to make new contacts and create business opportunities.
What are the best ways to make networking pain free?
So what are the best ways to get the most from networking whilst making it as painless as possible? First things first and it’s important to remember that these days networking is no longer an optional extra; it’s become invaluable. It’s all too easy to become complacent but accepting your existing network of contacts puts you at risk of losing out on new business. Widening your network will expose you to people who, next time they want to do business or find a new employee, are far more likely to think of their face-to-face contacts, rather than resorting to a trawl through Google’s search results.
I’ve found that shifting my attitude towards networking from ‘what will I get from this event,’ to ‘what can I offer?’ has worked wonders. Not only does it help to transform the way you feel about networking from dread to a liberating sensation of benevolence – you’ll have a new-found confidence in being a networking ‘giver’ rather than a needy ‘taker’.
So with this in mind, how should you approach your next networking meeting? You should begin by making sure you’ve got plenty of business cards – not just a couple – but dozens. Business cards should look the part – there’s no room for hastily scribbled on scraps of paper here – and it’s vital that your contact information is correct and up-to-date. When you give your business card you should expect one in return so don’t let yourself down by being the one who has to make excuses about having left your cards back at the office.
What are the golden rules of networking?
One of the golden rules of networking is to remember that it’s a two way street. If someone asks you about your business you need to ask about theirs. Try to find out as much as you can: the worst that can happen is that you’ll have both had a nice chat about each other’s business or jobs, but on the other hand you could find that you’ve just met an incredibly useful business contact.
After you’ve made contact, you should evaluate the value of that contact. It’s important to prioritise and to make the most use of the contacts which will be most useful to you. Ask yourself whether the contact is worth building a relationship with: can you help each other? Don’t forget to consider their network as well: could it be of use to you too? Networking is not only about making contact with individuals; it’s also a useful way to reach new networks.
One of the aspects of networking which seems to be the cause of terror above all others is the dreaded ‘elevator pitch.’ The best advice here is to write a short, concise piece to let others in your group know who you are, what you do and who your clients are. It should be no longer than 90 seconds; anything longer than this will give the impression that you’re rambling. Practice and then practice again and remember that everyone is in the same boat.
See business networking as a long-term investment
Networking is about building solid business relationships and it’s unrealistic to expect it to transform your business overnight. Rather than thinking of it as a competition to see who can make the most contacts in as short a time as possible, try to view networking as a long-term investment and once you’ve built those relationships they’ll need commitment to keep them alive. You never know, looking at networking in a positive light could even mean that you end up enjoying it.