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Business networking is a great marketing tool, both for your organisation and your own personal branding.
But just because you attend a networking event doesn’t mean you’re effectively networking.
In fact, you could be damaging your brand or wasting your time.
I have 10 tips to help you optimise your networking experience.
Making the most out of your networking opportunities is one way to ensure you’re making the most out of your time.
If you are going to take time out of your busy life to attend a networking event you need to make the most of the ‘networking’ part.
Look at the time the event begins and ensure you are on time, or early. If the function says 12noon for 12.30pm you should aim to arrive at midday. This way you have the chance to speak to people before the formalities begin.
Many people make a beeline for people they know when they go to a networking event. That’s ok, but not if you spend all your time, at every event you attend, only speaking to people you know.
One of the greatest types of networkers are those who choose to be the ultimate ice breaker. Those who consciously seek out the person standing by themselves and go and speak to them. Not because they’re an ‘easy mark’ or they think they could get business from them but because they have seen a person who doesn’t have anyone to speak to.
It’s easy to see that person out of the corner of your eye standing by themselves and just ignore it. You already know people so why should you go out of your way? If you make someone feel comfortable in a situation that is awkward for them, they are much more likely to remember you – and in a positive way!
Further to the above, some people say to me that they avoid seeking out new people because they don’t know what to say. Rule of thumb – if you’re struggling with what to say, don’t talk about yourself, instead ask questions of others.
This shows that you’re interested and engaged and can be a way for you to learn a little bit more about a person before you get the chance to talk about yourself.
I don’t know about you, but when someone seems genuinely interested in me it gives me a great feeling. And it’s nice to be engaged in a conversation where you’re learning about someone else, before talking about yourself.
And here’s a handy little hint when you’re trying to think of conversation – it doesn’t always have to be about work and business! What about your passions and interests? That could be the hook needed to develop a relationship with someone new.
At some stage, even if you’re the one asking all the questions, someone is likely to ask you what you do.
People often refer to this as the Elevator Pitch, the point being that you should be able to succinctly explain yourself and the business you represent, in a short period of time.
I like to take it further and think of the concept in terms of floors. You should really have a first floor response, followed by a penthouse response. Obviously the former is super quick, whilst the latter is a little longer and detailed.
You need to be able to explain your point of difference. So if you’re a lawyer, what’s different about you or your law firm?
Or if you are in a field which doesn’t have wide recognition and understanding, how do you explain it in layman’s terms, without being patronising?
But as I mentioned before, don’t force it. Allow people to ask questions of you, rather than volunteering the information yourself.
When you’re having a conversation with someone at a networking event, it’s important to remember to be positive. And this is something I sometimes forget myself.
It can be quite easy to slip into the “Urggg I’m sooooo tired, I’m soooo busy, I’m sooooo stressed”. Generally, this is not what people want to hear!
In any person’s life at any point in time there are always going to be a long list of things you can whinge about, but is it really the type of image you want to portray?
When you’re networking you are representing the brand of the organisation you work for or own. Should your brand be portrayed as negative? Because that’s what you’re doing when you start a whingefest.
The other thing to consider is – don’t give the milk away for free. And if you’re in the service industry this can be a fine line to walk.
When you represent a product you can talk at length about its features and benefits – all things that are good selling points and won’t stop the person you’re talking to perhaps buying the product.
But when you’re in the service industry, such as an accountant, or a lawyer or business advisor or marketer, you can sometimes find yourself drawn into conversations where the other person is asking for your advice with very specific questions.
You want to appear knowledgeable, without giving away all your IP. Not all people attend networking events with the best interests in mind. Some people are honestly only in it for themselves.
So feel free to give general advice, but not your hard-earned expertise.
Always have a stack of business cards on hand – but this does not mean good networking is handing out as many business cards as possible!
Nor is it about collecting about many business cards are possible.
But if you have made a connection with someone, it’s important you both know how to contact each other.
But whatever you do, do not shove them down anyone’s throat!!
And what do you do when you are given a business card? Does it just go in your jacket pocket or the endless pit of your handbag? Do you actually follow up with that person?
LinkedIn is a great way to establish a secondary contact with someone you’ve met, without appearing too pushy. It is also a sneaky way for you to learn a bit more about them and for them to be able to learn a bit more about your expertise! It can provide a lot more information, very succinctly, as opposed to your Elevator Pitch.
Pick the right events. This may seem like a simple statement, but it can be a complex equation to choose where to spend your networking time.
And you may need to go to a few wrong events to find the right event.
But sometimes thinking outside the square is not a bad idea. As an accountant, rather than going to event where there will be lots of other accountants – which makes it harder for you to stand out, perhaps attend a small business event or a women focused event or an industry event.
At the end of the day, not every person you meet is going to become a client or customer – and that’s ok! It doesn’t mean that you’re not effectively networking.
The name of the game should actually be about building relationships, and getting to know the business community you work within.
But each new person you meet could become someone you refer others to, something that is greatly appreciated in business circles. And as they say, what goes around comes around!
Every person you meet could be someone you refer work to. It is great to be considered a good referrer – from both sides!
The vast majority of networking events have a guest speaker. Try and make sure you are attentive and take something away from the presentation. To optimise your networking event you want to have some sort of ‘learning’ you can apply yourself.
A hint, a tidbit and new way of looking at things.
So there are my 10 tips for effective networking! If you implement these concepts you’ll be making the most of your time, projecting a positive image for your brand and hopefully build a strong network of business relationships. All of which will lead to an increase in clients and customers.
If you like my approach to business networking you may like to check out my 6-week online marketing workshops! Just click here to learn more.
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