Networking is a necessity when it comes to starting and growing a business. It can be invaluable for making new connections and opening up new prospects. It can be a daunting prospect, one which many people would rather avoid, but one that should not be over-looked.
A glass of barely drinkable wine, illegible name tag stickers and a roomful of people clutching crumpled business cards. It is hardly surprising that the concept of networking can strike fear into the heart of even the boldest chief executive.
However, the fact is that networking is also still the best way of making personal contacts within your industry and bringing you in contact with people you would never have met otherwise. So many business opportunities can and do open up through conversation and face to face meetings. No matter how technology advanced communications become, and how useful social media is, at the end of the day people still feel more comfortable doing business with people they have met in person.
So you need to learn how to do it effectively. Here’s how:
- Do your homework. Before attending a networking event get in touch with the organiser to find out who is going to be there and who you would like to talk to.
- Think about what you would like to get out of the event – are you looking for a business partner, investors, help and advice, new suppliers, customers or employees?
- Smile, act confident and look people in the eye. Don’t interrupt conversations but do introduce yourself at an appropriate moment. Be friendly and approachable.
- Don’t launch straight into a business pitch: start with some friendly small talk – about the event itself, the day’s news, even the weather – before introducing your business. Then keep it short, sharp, snappy and memorable.
- Give first before you receive – offer to put people in touch with someone who could be helpful to their business, or to send them a useful book or article – before wondering what they can do for you.
- Know when to move on. Don’t get stuck talking to the same person, no matter how interesting they are. Leave the conversation by introducing them to someone else, or simply by saying thank you, goodbye and moving on. At a typical networking event you have a maximum of about 90 minutes to get round the people you want to meet – so aim to spend no more than ten minutes talking to someone.
- Follow up your conversations with an email the next day to re-establish contact. If you wish to continue the conversation, suggest a meeting or a coffee. If there is no reason to meet straightaway, then stay in touch by sending occasional useful articles or website links that might be of interest.
- Remember that networking is not just about meeting new people – it is also about staying in touch with the people you have already met. Oli Barrett, director of Cospa, a creative agency and co-founder of Startup Britain, said: “95% of networking is about keeping in touch with people you already know. Good networkers have effective networks that they keep in touch with in really helpful and smart ways. Having an effective network means you have a constant stream of opportunities in your inbox, and when you want to make something happen, you have a warm network ready and willing to take your call.”
‘SME Masterclass: How to network more effectively’ (Telegraph.co.uk), July 2013
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