When we think of networking, we often associate it with the shaking of hands, overly rehearsed introductions, the exchange of pleasantries and business cards. And in many cases, it is those things, but effective business networking is so much more. Before we delve into networking tips and best practice, it’s important to understand what networking truly is, and what it can help you and your business to achieve.
What is Networking?
According to Wikipedia, “business networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”
In short, networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships through leveraging both business and personal connections to help your respective businesses thrive. Continue reading for five networking tips for members of networking groups – these tips will help you stand out from the crowd and become a memorable contact.
1. Attend Regularly!
Regardless of the amount you pay, it’s an investment in your business and to gain the value from that you need to make being present a priority. Of course, 100% attendance is a challenge for busy professionals, but 75%+ really shouldn’t be. Factor networking time into your working week or month as a matter of priority.
Don’t let an unusually heavy workload put you off attending your networking meeting. People often think to themselves, something’s got to give, but networking shouldn’t be it, unless you are doing an excessive amount of it! Choose one or two groups that suit your business and invest time into getting the most out of those groups instead of ‘spreading yourself too thin’.
Relationships are developed over time, not just after one short conversation – the second, third and fourth conversations could be instrumental. Weekly or monthly networking groups create opportunities to reconnect with individuals over and over again and really get to know them. This is when opportunities arise. If you miss a meeting, you may also miss an opportunity to connect with someone new, and the openings that may spring from it. It’s often said, “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know” – a personal recommendation can go a long way in achieving that vital job promotion or that new business lead. Also, “it’s not just who you know, it’s who they know and who knows you.” And how do you become known? The answer is, by putting yourself out there!
Step out of your comfort zone and grow your professional network. Build a network of connections who know you, and the value you can bring to potential project. Really can’t attend? Then organise for a colleague to attend in your place.
2. Know Your Goals
Ask yourself, what are you trying to achieve from networking? People network for a number of different reasons. Here’s just some of the reasons why:
- Business development – to generate new business and clients for the company.
- Personal learning – to build your knowledge of a market or various topics.
- Skills development & confidence building – this can be done via public speaking and elevator pitches to sell services.
- To get out of the office and meet people – this can be especially beneficial if you’re a freelancer and if you work from home or are largely office based.
To be an effective networker, decide what you want to get out of networking and develop your networking strategy around it. It’s not just a case of turning up and seeing what happens. Remember the mantra… ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’
3. Get Your Elevator Pitch Right
How many times have you heard someone introduce themselves and their business but you’re still not really sure what they do? An overly lengthy job title or excessive use of technical jargon can sometimes make a person switch off. Here are some things to consider or mention in your ’60 seconds of fame’ or ’30 seconds in the elevator.’
- Who does your business help?
- How does it help?
- What specific products and/or services do you offer?
- Can you give client examples that will connect with your audience?
- Why should they buy from you? What differentiates you from your competitors?
- Identify how other members of the group can help you and ask for their help e.g. introduce you to a specific person or type of business owner.
- And lastly, remember it’s not all about you! Identify what you can do to help other members of the group to fulfil their objectives.
4. Schedule One-to-One Meetings
You’ve carved out the time in your calendar, you’ve come to the meeting and you’ve been introduced to a fellow networking member who interests you. Don’t just hope they’ll be at the next meeting or that you’ll bump into them soon – be proactive by following-up and organising a one-to-one meeting.
Prior to the meeting, think about what you want to get from that meeting. That doesn’t mean that you need to rehearse a pitch, or put together a PowerPoint presentation, but at least organise your thoughts and goals into a few bullet points that will give your meeting purpose and keep you on track to achieve your goal.
Also explore how you can help the other person so that you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship. Think about what industries, markets or topics that you are knowledgeable in and what types of contacts you can share.
5. Avail of Marketing Opportunities
Tom Peters, an American writer on business management practices, once said “if a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.”
Timing may never be perfect to take a business trip or partner in a pitch but think carefully before you pass up on an opportunity in business. Think about what you may gain from any business interaction. Are there opportunities to do a guest speaking slot, write an article for the website or share your good news stories via the group’s social media channels? Perhaps you can suggest guest speakers for an event, invite others to come along to a meeting or participate in the organising committee? Maybe you can provide a meeting venue or a site tour of your facilities. Opportunities come in many forms, so avail of the opportunities that networking presents.
It’s important to understand that networking groups offer lots of opportunities to get involved, to show what you can do, to share information and to help others. Make use of the opportunities presented to you today because timing will never be perfect.
Maximise what you can glean from every networking situation through careful planning; know your goals, present yourself in the best possible way and be proactive about relationship building both within and outside of the group.
Remember networking is all about mutually beneficial relationships – help others and put the needs of the group before your own, no-one appreciates someone who is too self-centred!
Not getting enough out of networking? Then determine if it the group that is the problem or you? Theodore Roosevelt once said “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
In short, you get out of it what you put into it!
I hope this helps you maximise your networking potential