When I was just starting my company, I had some advice from a business coach to get out there and network. It was one of the most terrifying thoughts. Networking. I was to voluntarily walk into a room full of complete strangers and talk about myself. Crazy! Why would I put myself through something so horrid?
Countless networking meetings later there is still an element of apprehension about talking to strangers. It’s rare now that I know no one in the room and instead of dreading meeting people I see it as an opportunity. A chance to find someone interesting to talk with, to make new connections, dare I say friends and hopefully even find some new clients. It is great to meet small business owners. They are really inspirational and there are so many different types of businesses out there that I never dreamed about.
There are many different types of networking and you can meet new contacts in person or virtually on social media. Networking is more than just two people talking. You speak with one person but they have a whole network of people that they know and one of them just might need your services.
There are of course networking opportunities everywhere: on the train, at a bar, in the queue for the supermarket, just get chatting. Go where your ideal client goes. For example, if you are looking for people that want to eat healthily to sell your new juice drink to, go to a gym; If you are looking for yummy mummies to buy your new handbag range, hang out in coffee shops; If you are looking for small businesses to sign up for your insurance, go to a business networking group.
Business networking groups, like business themselves, come in different shapes and sizes. Some are informal and some very formal. Those with structure may help if you don’t know where to begin. While those where you mingle in a room with a glass of wine in hand can be just as productive. Try them out to see what works for you.
Here are some things to think about when networking:
- Ask others what they do, you are bound to meet some really interesting people.
- Try to say each person’s name back to help you remember, ideally their name and their business name to help the association. Swap business cards so you can connect with them on social media.
- When talking to someone think of the people you know and introductions you could make that might help others.
- Be optimistic, don’t let fear hold you back.
Make an impression
- Be punctual aim to arrive early to give you time to scope out the place instead of rushing in late. If formal be sure to be there before any speeches
- First impressions count. Make the effort to represent your brand.
- Pretend to be confident and you will look it. Smile, shake hands and make eye contact.
- Mimic the body language of the person you are speaking to unless, they cross their arms and keep looking away – all signs that it’s time to move on.
Work the room
- Have a good elevator pitch – a short definition of your job and the benefits you provide, make it attention-grabbing.
- Have some examples of what you have done in mind, to demonstrate knowledge and experience
- Stand in an open position like a ‘V’ and approach others that are standing in an open position it’s a sign they are inviting you to join them.
- When your conversation comes to a natural end, ask who else they know in the room that they could introduce you to, so you won’t have to approach another person alone.
Find what works for you and show up regularly so that you build relationships and people remember you. It’s important for people to trust you before they will recommend you to their friends. Be patient, it can take a while but keep networking, when people are ready they’ll come back to you. Remember – it gets easier the more you do it and don’t forget to bring your business cards!