How many times have you thought about going to a networking event and then talked yourself out of it? Perhaps your reasons (or excuses – you choose!) for being reluctant to attend networking meetings are some of these:
- The event is the wrong day or time
- Not the ‘right’ people are going
- Too expensive
- Not enough time, you’re too busy at the office
- You’ve been to networking events before and gained nothing
- You don’t know anyone going
Most of us agree that people buy people, in other words people do business with others they like, trust and respect. How do potential customers meet you and start to build a solid business relationship unless you venture out into the business networking world? Of course everyone is aware of the opportunities that social media marketing can bring if done effectively but the importance of meeting in person should never be underestimated. According to Richard Branson “Business is all about personal contact. No matter how heavy your workload is… everyone can and should be a networker.” Mr B is probably right and the networking trend definitely seems to be on the increase.
So, what makes a good networker and how do we choose which events to attend?
Firstly, a successful networker is an excellent communicator who is confident about their business. A smile, strong handshake and good eye contact go a long way in making a favourable first impression and let’s not forget that we generally make judgements about people within seconds of meeting. Dressing appropriately is also essential as we need to feel positive about ourselves and our ability to fit in with other professionals at the meeting. However, not all networking events call for formal dress so it’s best to find out the dress code beforehand. Networking is also not only about making business contacts who may turn into your customers, it also involves a measure of generosity in attempting to help others succeed in any way you can. This could be useful introductions, recommendations or simply imparting knowledge which may be helpful to someone else.
Networking events come in many different guises and careful thought is needed about which ones to attend before signing up. Many groups require a membership fee which can prove to be quite expensive, others operate on a pay as you go basis.
Here are three brief descriptions of the most common types of networking formats:
Meetings of a more formal nature will probably involve
table placings and have a structured format throughout. There may be a presentation and you will be asked to briefly describe your business.
A large number of networking events are organised so that attendees are offered both time to mix freely among the other delegates and the opportunity to engage in more in-depth discussions, often over a meal, with individuals of particular interest to you.
Successful networking doesn’t have to be business talk over lunch or breakfast in a solemn setting. Many business connections are made over a few drinks in relaxed surroundings. These occasions usually take a more unstructured approach, allowing attendees to mix and mingle as they wish.
Whatever the format of the event, you can usually expect some sort of presentation or talk at some point. In some cases, this is a welcoming speech from the organiser but in others it could be a short presentation by either a sponsor or member of the group. In addition to this, there is frequently the chance to introduce yourself to the whole group and give a very short description of your business. This is a great way to highlight what you do and the benefits you could bring to your captive audience.
If you are new to networking, you may want to start off with a fairly structured meeting where you are greeted and introduced to people and then sit down for most of the meeting. In this scenario, you won’t need to potentially interrupt other people’s conversations to introduce yourself.
To conclude then, here are some top tips for successful networking:
- Think carefully beforehand about what you hope to gain from the event.
- Try to obtain a list of attendees before the meeting (in some cases this is published on social media), so that you can make contact with people of interest in advance.
- Practise your business pitch and know it well so that you feel confident when speaking in front of others.
- Choose a networking group which suits your budget.
- View networking as an important part of your marketing strategy.
- Be prepared and willing to help others with their businesses.
- Dress appropriately for the type of event.
- Be open-minded, often the most unlikely people can be the best contacts for your business.
- Prepare for the long haul – networking isn’t a quick sales fix.
- Smile and enjoy yourself!