Networking Done Right
Networking can be very powerful for building relationships, support, and ultimately referrals, recommendations, and generally people talking about your business.
Personally, I'm a huge fan.
Local womens networking meetup? I'm there. Entrepreneur and Startup Scene?Count me in. SME skillshare seminars? Sign me up.
Over the past two years, I've attended many of these events, and met many different people - each with their own approach, aims, and attitude to networking.
Some are very successful at it, and others just wind everyone one up with their 'salesy' speech and business card throwing abilities (cue the eye-rolling).
To me, I'm the complete opposite. In fact, I so rarely give out business cards that people end up asking me for one, or typing my linkedin profile into their iPhone app to catch up later. I believe networking is all about people, and people are just like you, or I. We don't like to be sold to, we don't like to be talked down to, and we certainly don't like to be sat having a chat about your 'latest fab product' for half an hour while all the interesting people we wanted to speak to, are off chatting to everyone else and building connections.
So here is my personal approach to networking, and dare I say it - it works pretty well.
The number one thing to remember, is treat networking like you would friendship-making. If you walked into a room and wanted to make friends with someone, you wouldn't rant forever about yourself, hand out your phone number to everyone there, tell them your life story, and them persuade them to be your friend by telling them how great you are.
You would give and take, listen to the other person, genuinely be interested in them, and what's going on in their life. You'd keep it casual and interesting, have a laugh, and perhaps complement each other. You might even suggest a few tips for a problem they may be dealing with.
That's how networking should be. Like making friends, just with business involved.
So here are my top tips for success:
Be real, and true to who you are. You will get far more out of networking if you are a true representative of yourself, and are able to connect with people on a personal level, versus script-read sales speak. Do you have a pre-defined speech for talking to your friends? Always wear the same outfit every time you meet up? No. Then you shouldn't for networking either. Be you, be unique, be honest. People buy from people, not sales scripts and robots (unless maybe you're living in 2050).
Genuinely connect and care about other people's businesses. Think about how you can help the person that you're talking to (a contact, a referral, a website, or a handy tool you think they could use), listen to their story, and keep in touch after! Whenever I come across something that will help and add value to someone else’s business, I message them straight away to share it and let them know - this is a really powerful way of connecting and networking, and you never know... next time they need the products/services you sell, they’ll remember that value you added, and likely call you first!
Don't throw around your business cards like sweets.
The ultimate faux-pas of networking - Arrive, do a business card dump, hope someone reads it, sit down and wait for the leads to 'roll in' (cue face palm). Let's think about this for a second, that person has absolutely no idea who you are, what you do, or why you are giving them your card - so why would they care about it? The answer - they wouldn't (FYI it's going in the bin, or on top of the pile of other unhelpful business cards stuffed in their bag somewhere). Instead, introduce yourself, start a conversation, and if you genuinely think you might be able to help them out (this doesn't always mean by selling something to them!), only then give them your card. This way, they are far more likely to value it, and remember who you are after the event for a follow up!
AVOID THE FORMALITIES.
9 times out of 10, at the start, you will somehow be convinced to attend one of those uber formal, salesy networking events. Now they'll seem very effective, and very profitable at first; but let's save ten hours, and I'll just tell you now - they won't work, you'll pay a boat load of money just to feel like everyone's really successful when they're actually not, only one or two get any business from them at all, and you'll be forced to give people random contacts/sales leads every week, for little to nothing in return, just so you keep up with the joneses. So, please please please, just avoid them. Stick to what works - supportive, friendly networking, with genuine business referrals.
If you have a skill, piece of knowledge, or contact that you think someone at the event will benefit from, tell them! Be helpful, have an abundance attitude, and find ways you can make yourself useful to the members of the group. Chances are, people will really appreciate this, be more likely to refer you to their contacts (as you've proved you know your stuff), and use your products/services when they need them.