Networking is a real challenge for many business owners, but it’s one of the essential ingredients for success. To make the most of your networking opportunities, it’s vital to overcome your fears and learn how to confidently but genuinely sell yourself and your products or services.
These five tips will help you master the art of genuine networking.
Establish goals. Before attending networking events, ask yourself what you want to achieve. Do you want to gain more knowledge about running a business? Is your goal to make connections with other business owners for mentoring purposes, or to expand your customer base? Clarifying what you want to gain from networking will help you refine your approach.
Research events. Time is limited, particularly for those running a business. It’s important to research networking opportunities thoroughly before attending, rather than taking a scatter-gun approach based on what you can fit into your schedule. Find conferences, awards nights and business breakfasts which will help you achieve your goals. If your aim is to make connections with prominent people in your field, check online for a list of attendees or contact the organiser. Also make sure there is ample time for mingling in the event program.
Create a positive first impression. To make the best impact at networking events you need to have excellent communication skills. It’s a good idea to have a summary of your business prepared before attending events, but try not to sound rehearsed when explaining what you do. If talking to new people makes you nervous, have a few conversation-starters ready. Sharing personal stories and anecdotes is a great way to build rapport, but be careful not to talk too much about yourself. Read up on recent developments in your industry so you have some interesting topics to discuss, but don’t feel you can only ‘talk shop’. To avoid getting stuck with one person, also have some graceful conversation-enders on hand, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to speak with as many people as possible. A few quality conversations are often more beneficial than 20 shallow connections.
Be a good listener. It’s very obvious when someone is intently listening to what you’re saying, as opposed to waiting for you to finish so they can resume speaking. If you want to establish worthwhile connections at events, you need to show genuine interest in others. You can do this by asking open-ended questions which require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. You might want to do some research on other attendees so you can ask them specific questions about their business or background. Demonstrate active listening by smiling, nodding and maintaining eye contact. Also, be aware of non-verbal communication ques in yourself and others, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
Follow up. Many potentially valuable connections are lost because people don’t follow up. Failing to take this step cancels out the benefits of attending networking events. To reinforce the positive first impression you made, you need to follow up with a personalised message. You can do this via email or through LinkedIn or any social networking platform. The most important thing is to establish a connection outside the event for exchanging information, tips and advice. Arranging to meet for coffee in the weeks after the event will further help to cement your connection.
Follow these tips to get the most out of your networking opportunities.