Networking can be tough, especially if you’re the new one in the group. When you first step into a room full of complete strangers, all chatting and laughing like they are old friends (which some of them are), it can feel hugely intimidating. But networking is an essential part of small and medium business life and it can do so much good for your business, your growth and you as a business owner (it can be awfully lonely otherwise). But how do you make the most of your networking time? We have a few tips for you.
Show Interest In Others
This should be your first and golden rule, but so many people break it. There are always the boring people who talk about themselves non-stop, or their own challenges and worries. Those types of people get nowhere in networking. Yes, if someone asks you about something you should respond, but the real value comes in showing an interest in others, rather than talking about yourself and your business for the whole event. It makes people feel valued like you are listening and endears them more to you as a person.
If you are in an event where you can stand up and offer a 40, 50 or 60-second pitch to the room, make sure you are specific. So if you’re looking to speak to a certain company, try and find out who it is you would be dealing with and mention them by name. You should also be specific about your reasons for wanting to speak with them, and what value you would offer. This helps everyone else in the room be on the lookout for the right person and introduce you in the right way – which is more likely to result in being referred.
Be A Giver And Help People (If You Can)
If someone drops their business cards or a stack of paperwork, be the first to offer them help. If a newcomer is looking lost, make sure you approach them, welcome them and make them feel comfortable within the room. Be a giver within and outside the room, as that generosity will often come back to you 10-fold. Showing basic courtesy and offering help, support and guidance is likely to help cement your relationships with the people in the room, which is ultimately what leads to more business.
We don’t mean you have to dress up in your Sunday best or in black tie, but just take a second to choose your outfit for networking and show that you care about what you look like. Ask yourself ‘would I like to meet me looking like that?’ It’s not just about clothes either – make sure your personal grooming is up to scratch and your body odours are under control. Reflect the personality of your business in the way you dress, creative people can get away with more informal dress code than that of a solicitor.
Don’t Just Hand Out Cards
There is nothing worse than watching someone rush around the room, pressing their business cards into everyone’s hand and then walking right out the door again. You should only hand out your card to someone who you have had a meaningful conversation with, preferably after they have asked you for it. Simply throwing your cards at people sends out a really bad message about you, it shows you are more interested in quantity than quality. Cards given to people you have an in-depth conversation are more likely to be used than those sprayed around a room.
Be A Good Conversation Starter
Conversations are hard to start, so make sure you have some basic ideas in your back pocket if you start to struggle. Keep up with recent news and try to find something better than ‘nice weather’ as your go to. One of our favourites is to always aim to have an interesting fact available. That way you can start a conversation with ‘I didn’t realise this, but did you know…’ This not only gives you a conversation starter but leaves the person glad to have met you. If you are really stuck then read our 4 Ways to break the ice at Networking events for some inspiration.
Listen More Than You Talk
Have you noticed that listen is an anagram of silent? When you’re talking to another person or group of people at a networking event, make sure you are listening to what they have to say. We’ve seen so many networkers who are only ever looking over the shoulder of who they are talking to rather than actually paying attention. It’s horrible to see and even worse to experience. Make sure you give the person you are talking to your full attention, button your lip and be a good listener – you will get much more respect for it!
Make a Commitment and stick to it
Structured networking events normally come with a membership of a year or less and require a commitment to attend on a weekly or monthly basis. If you join one of these groups, make sure you clear your diary for those monthly or weekly meetings and stick to them. Your investment will be totally wasted if you just turn up occasionally, lack of attendance can show that you are not committed to growing your business, even if its because you are so busy. Groups often allow you to send a hot seat so if this is the case, get a list of “hot-seat” fellow business owners, plan your diary in advance and make sure you always show up or send a replacement.