Making networking work for you

Have you ever gone along to a networking event and come away with a bunch of business cards but no real contacts to help move your business forward? This scenario happens to many people who have gone to networking events without knowing what they really want to achieve from the event. Enid Pinder, writing for our sister site, BusinessZone.co.uk,/b> discusses ways to make networking work for you.

Networking should be seen as integral part of your marketing plan and a way to build your profile. A Web site, advertising, press releases, and direct mail are all important, but by networking you actually get to meet people face-to-face. It is always more difficult sourcing a new supplier if you don't know the person. By meeting people, even if they are not in a position to work with you at the outset, if you have left a favorable impression, chances are you will be on their list of contacts.

Start with people you know

You could start networking with people you already know, for example friends, family, colleagues, current or previous employer, and current and past clients.

Remember friends and family have contacts that you don't have – tap into their network. Many start-up businesses find their first clients through people they have worked with or through the companies they have worked for. When you leave the organization, do so in a way that leaves the door open for you to contact them in the future. You know the organization and you know their challenges and more importantly they know you. Keep the relationship alive.

Find the right event for you

Attending networking events is an important platform to make useful contacts. There are many types of networking events on offer and you know you can't attend them all. You may need to try a few before you attend the ones that are right for you.

Some are really big events with crowds of people, while others are more intimate. Some offer you the opportunity to talk about your business to the group or there are events that only allow one person from a specific profession.

You can also attend facilitated networking events, whereby the organizers will get to know you and your business and introduce you to appropriate contacts.

Ask yourself questions

Before jumping straight in, ask yourself a few questions. What do you want to achieve through networking? What type of people do you want to meet? Where can you meet them? What will you say to that person?

It is also important to recognize that whilst networking is about you progressing your business, other people are also there to progress theirs. Don't expect people to give to you. It needs to be the other way around – you give to them. If you meet someone and you can help them in any way, possible they will remember you and are more likely to do business with you in the future. Even if they are not a position to work with you it's possible they know others who are and word of mouth is really valuable.

Don't forget your business cards

Always remember to take your business cards – you will be surprised how many networking events I've attended and people have not had cards.

Having cards shows you are serious. If you are just in the ideas phase of your business you still need to get some cards printed. Even if they just contain your name and contact details, you need something to pass on to people. They are not expensive and are well worth the initial investment.

Listen as well as talk

With your cards in hand don't go around the room offering them to everyone. Networking only works if you take the time to get to know the person you are talking to. Listen to what they have to say about their business, ask them questions to encourage more conversation. Be genuinely interested. People always detect fakes. People will often ask for your card without you thrusting it in their hands. Or during the conversation they may offer you one of their cards so this is the ideal opportunity to reciprocate.

Don't be one of those people who talks about themselves
and when the other person begins speaking you then start looking around the room for your next opportunity. You will not be doing yourself any favors. Remember you are there to give and not receive. By giving you will receive – if not straight away, at some point it will happen.

Connecting not selling

Networking is not another word for sales so don't go along with the thought that you must sell in order to achieve your aims. It is all about making connections with others, building your contacts, and nurturing relationships with people. This is what works in the long term. So think long term and don't expect everything to happen now.

The ice breaker

Some people find it difficult to initiate conversation and feel intimidated by the whole process. It's useful to bear in mind that everyone is at the event for the same reason and they are there to meet others too. If there was a speaker at the start of the event, it's the ideal opportunity to begin a conversation. You could start by saying "I found the speaker very interesting. What did you think?" This sentence is the perfect ice-breaker.

If you overhear a conversation of interest then politely ask if you could join their conversation as it's an important subject for you. You will find people will welcome you into the conversation. If you see someone alone go up and speak with them as they are probably feeling apprehensive too!

If you have said you will send some information to someone you've been talking to, then make a note on the back of their card and remember to act on it. People will remember if you say you are going to do something and you don't. This is not the type of person they will work with in their business and they certainly won't feel inclined to recommend you to any of their colleagues.

Don't go with a friend

Make the most of your time at the events by remembering to network! Don't go with a friend or you may be tempted to talk with them all night – that won't achieve anything. If you meet someone particularly interesting you will have their contact details to take the conversation further another time if you both wish. You both need to move on and meet other people.

If someone is monopolizing your time it may be because they are feeling unsure about networking and they are comfortable with you. Again this is not helping either of you. You could offer to introduce them to someone you met previously or you could invite others to join the conversation. This is then your opportunity to move on but do so politely.

Follow-up

After the event it's useful to follow-up by sending each of your new contacts a personal e-mail. It's important that it is personal and not a blanket nice to meet you, this is what I can offer type of message.

Mention something relevant about the conversation you had or offer them an introduction or some useful information. They will remember you in the future. When you first start networking it is useful to keep in touch with most of the people you meet as they might be able to connect you to others. However, as time progresses you can narrow your focus and spend more time cultivating the relationships which are likely to result in profitable business relationships.

Networking does work if done in the right way and is an excellent marketing tool, so make sure it's included in your marketing plan. It's definitely worth the time and it can also be enjoyable. I urge you to go forth and multiply your contacts!

Enid Pinder is a business coach for networking organization Striding Out based in the UK.
 

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