You may be familiar with the phrase it’s ‘who you know not what you know’. Networking is something that we all know we should do more of, but often never get around to doing it. For some the idea of going to a networking event fills them with fear and dread. But networking is an important aspect to getting ahead in business and if can be key for start-ups trying to expand their business.
Why Networking is Important?
In such a competitive global market networking has never been more important for businesses. Networking will lead to new opportunities and help you grow your business/client base.
‘Through effective networking activity you can become the known and recommended expert in your field. And the power of recommendation is extremely strong’ Heather Townsend
There are a number of benefits to networking such as improving your profile, generating opportunities, strengthening your reputation and helping you to find answers or supportive tools.
Different Channels of Networking?
There are lots of different channels to networking which are done both face to face and online. Online there are options such as joining email listings which can provide you with valuable information or online forums which can be great for question and answers and connecting with people within a specialised field. The rise of social media platforms has transformed online communication and ensuring you are active on LinkIn, Twitter and Facebook is now an important part of online communication and reaching new audiences. You can also gain membership to a number of networking organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce which has been in circulation for centuries. These organisations are specifically set up to support business networking and by joining they can provide you will ample opportunity to meet new people and attend events.
How to be good at Networking
Heather Townsend in her book Business Networking has devised what she calls the FITTER model: 6 steps to always follow and think about when dedicating time to networking.
Many people make the mistake of not following up from networking events. They meet lots of people, exchange cards and then never speak to them ever again. It’s always worth sending out a follow up email or letter to build on that relationship. If you promised them information make sure you send it, or try to send them something they’ll find useful. It’s also important to make sure that you put all contact details into a database system which is clear and easy to access. Time will pass and people you have met will blur into a distant memory, so it’s important to ensure you’ve recorded who they are, where they’re from and what they do; if possible try to write summary notes on the discussion had.
Introduce yourself with impact
At most networking events you only have a very short amount of time to make a good impression, and first impressions count. Firstly dressing well, having a warm smile and a firm handshake goes without saying, and body language plays a large part in your approachability. Secondly what you say in the first few minutes and how you say it is crucial. You want to make the most impact in the shortest time possible and in order to do that you need be able to describe who you are, what you do and how your business can add value to the person you’re talking to. The first few lines of what you say to someone is also important when it comes to building a rapport. If someone asks you what you do then instead of giving a one worded answer try to think of a sentence that will lead to more discuss.
‘I help my client legally pay only the right amount of tax, not a penny more, not a penny less’
Or ‘I help professionals gain better business results for less effort’. Heather Townsend
Target specific people
It’s always beneficial to have at the back of your mind who you want to connect with and specifically target them. You could try connecting with them before an event, either by email or through social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter letting them know you will be at the event. If it’s an organisation that you know you want to connect with but you don’t know the individuals then research relevant people who might be there, find out as much as you can about them and think about a common interest. Building good relationships in business is a lot about finding a common goal and supporting each other in achieving that goal. Like all relationships it needs to be a two way process which benefit both parties.
Turn Social Conversations into Business Chat
Remember if you’re going to a networking event you’re going there for a reason. It’s easy to get carried away in meaningless chat but you want to make those conversations count. After you build up a rapport with someone it’s important to know how to steer the conversation in the right direction. Often the best way to do this is by asking them a meaningful question that relates to what you want to get across.
- How’s business at the moment?
- What’s your ideal client?
- What problems do you solve for your clients?
- How do you market your business?
- What challenges are you facing at the moment?
- Who is your ideal referral source?
Networking is all about engaging and it’s important to know how to do this effectively. Sometimes people make the mistake of talking to much about themselves and not finding out enough about the other person. Building good relationships is about being interested in what other people have to say and finding a mutually beneficial area. If you are with a team of people at a networking event then maybe divide and discuss as a team who you are going to engage with, this way you can cover everyone in the room. Mastering the art of exiting a conversation is something that some people find difficult. Introducing or connecting them to someone else and then slowly slipping away can be a good way to do this, or ending with ‘well it’s been great talking to you, I won’t take up any more of your time, but please keep in touch’.
Often people can also be reluctant at joining in groups because they’re ambivalent as to whether they will be welcomed. A good indicator is to look at the body language of a group, if people are standing and looking inwards to one another they are probably in a private conversation, but groups that have open sides where the people are looking out of the groups probably means they are happy for new people to join.
Doing your research on what events you should attend and identifying who you should connect with will help you to achieve your results faster. It’s going to be easier to build a rapport with someone if you know a bit about them. Below are some of the different ways this can be done:
- Search for them on LinkedIn
- Look at their company website
- Do a google search their name
- Search for them on Facebook
- See whether any of your trusted connections on LinkedIn are connected to them and could tell you more about them.
- See whether they are on Twitter and what they tweet about