Networking Know-HowPosted 11 Sep 2017 Top tips from David Hill, SME growth consultant with franchised network Business Doctors
Networking is one of the most important strategies for helping to grow a business.
Some clients ask whether their business would benefit from networking, others dismiss it without trying, but the reality is nearly every kind of company can benefit by connecting with people. In this internet age, the old phrase ‘people buy from people’ is still as true as ever.
But how do you network successfully and what are reasonable expectations from attending events?
It’s unlikely you’ll become acquainted with a whole order book of new clients on your first outing. Similarly, it would be unusual for you to have the confidence to refer someone you have just met to your friends and contacts if you have only had one 10-minute discussion with them - however well it went.
What are the real benefits and how should networking be used to maximum effect?
As I suggested before, networking is not just about making initial contacts. The follow-up is perhaps even more important, as this provides the greater opportunity to understand personalities, get a better feel for business values and build a picture of each other’s ideal referral targets, building trust and confidence as you go.
One of our innate human behaviours is known as reciprocity, which means if a person does something good for you, then usually you will want to respond in kind.
Therefore, armed with the information and confidence gained from an initial discussion, a good strategy is to target those people who you feel can help you most by finding referrals for them first. It’s the business version of ‘I scratch your back, then you scratch mine’.
Preparing for the event
Let’s talk about the actual networking event and how you should prepare.
Firstly, it’s key to have a clear objective and to work out what you want to achieve from the event. A common purpose may be something like ‘to arrange at least two good quality one-to-ones with new contacts’.
With a mission in mind, you have a clear cut driver for your activity at the event.
It’s also advisable to prepare a 60-second pitch, even if you’re not sure if this is required. Be clear on what is a good referral for you - the more specific the better, even down to named individuals.
Carry plenty of business cards too. Some business owners believe this is old hat, but a physical card is still hard to beat and you can even write specific and personalised ‘reminder’ information on it as a memory jogger for the recipient.
Dress code is important. Formality isn’t a necessity these days, but dressing in a manner that suits your industry and makes you look professional does still matter.
Your clothes can also be an opportunity to help you stand out, so wearing something brightly coloured, choosing a funky statement accessory or just carrying something unusual can be a good conversation starter and make you more memorable - if, of course, this suits your personal style.
Do make a point of arriving on time, or better still, early. There can be a temptation to arrive a few minutes late, so that the group is already in full swing, but by arriving 10 minutes before the start you’re ready to welcome arrivals, who will migrate to you rather than you having to break into existing conversations.
Topics of conversation
With topics of conversation, don’t feel the need to keep the talk focused on business alone. Often, you’ll find you connect with people when you chat about other things, such as hobbies, favourite places to visit or children. Just ensure you mention your business at some point.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself and express your personality, as this is all part of relationship building. Networking events are an opportunity to identify synergies and personalities you feel most comfortable with and identify the individuals worthy of a follow up one-to-one.
Remember though, that even if a business seems irrelevant to your own, at this stage you don’t know who they know, so always keep an open mind.
Once the event has finished, make sure you follow up on any contacts made, as many don’t bother. Have a robust follow-up regime such as connecting on LinkedIn, sending a follow-up email and arranging a one-to-one where appropriate.
I’ve talked through a general overview of the benefits and good practices with networking. Some people are more natural at it than others.
For some industries it works better - and quicker - than others, but overall networking can and usually does work for anyone who applies the required effort.
Here are my eight top networking tips as a recap:
Look for opportunities to gain favour with others.
Have a clear objective before attending an event.
Prepare a 60-second pitch to include ideal referral targets.
Carry plenty of business cards.
Dress appropriate to your business.
Be yourself and don’t just talk business.
Follow up and arrange one-to-ones.