Networking is about getting to know people who you can help, so they can help you. I have used networking to support my business training company and would like to pass on a few pointers. Done well it is about win-wins, relationships and authenticity, not card collecting, sales or hard work. Many people’s experience however is that it is a source of stress, causes fear and leaves them feeling drained. Here’s how to have a “no stress” networking experience:
Networking is about getting in touch with certain specific people – your target market and people who may know your target market (in my case business training managers and stressed people in companies in Brighton, Sussex, London and the SE UK for example) and while targeting is key don’t be tunnel blind. It may be the wife, friend or son of an apparently “useless” person that connects you to a buyer for example. You are also building your public identity with each person you speak with. Note also that effective networking is about giving and being useful to others. The person that is now providing me with web design gave several good pieces of free advice and contacts for other work before we started working together – people reciprocate and cross refer naturally once relationship is built.
The best advice I’ve had before a date was “be yourself…carefully”. Business is a type of romance so try being yourself, you’re better that way and most people can smell BS a mile off anyway. If someone asks how business is and it’s not great, say “not great”. Emotional authenticity builds trust, so if someone asks how you are answer them truthfully. Disclose a few personal details – other networkers don’t need to know what you ate for breakfast but they may be interested that you have kids for example. Just as me, me, me is boring, boring, boring so is not being yourself! Note too that it’s being inauthentic that’s draining.
Remember that people’s time is precious, listen and get to know people. This is in your interest as well as theirs. Give people your full attention or none at all, looking over someones shoulder to see if anyone more “better” around at a networking event is offensive. Be interesting and describe the USPs, benefits and interesting stories about what what you do with colour and flair. Everyone is potentially interesting when they talk about what they truly love (if your wasting your time leading a business in an area you’re not passionate about stop reading now). You’ll be even more interesting to people if you can connect what you love with other people and their challenges. Benefits and solutions are very interesting!
All this nice stuff I’m suggesting doesn’t mean you can‘t have an aim and some focus. While networking for me is not about just talking to people I can sell to, it is also worth following-up connections, and getting put in touch with people you can sell to (or buy from). Add people to your database, LinkedIn, Twitter or whatever else the kids use these days, after you meet them. Mail that day or make a note to phone people to continue building relationship and being generous. Just collecting a bunch of cards won’t achieve anything.
Focus on one or two groups and stick with them to build relationships. Groups I enjoy networking with for example are the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce who are friendly and funky, and the Sussex CIPD group (I work in business training so these are my peers and potential customers).
No Stress Business Networking – Conclusion
I hope you’ve found these networking tips useful, they’re just tips so do what works for you. Good networking is just being yourself and getting to know people, who you may be of service to, and who may enjoy helping you out. Look for the win-wins and enjoy being yourself.