When did “networking” become a dirty word? Perhaps when our default thought of such an event became a room full of people you don’t want to talk to and with whom you have to “sell” your business or “get something from”. We all know, or at least have been told, that networking is great for business. When you are entering the world of entrepreneurship, this is even more vital. Our ultimate goal of course is to convert those initial conversations into sales or business opportunities. However, this is a time consuming, lengthy and uncertain process and if your approach is purely to gain sales, you will most likely come across as pushy. Upon starting out on my own, I realised that in general people want to do business with people they like so I changed my mindset from “networking” to “making friends” and started to use that as my measure of success. I was surprised that the result was not only an increasing number of opportunities in a business context but perhaps more importantly, a richer life experience.
1. Focus on relationship building
I have learnt from some excellent female mentors in my life that great networking isn’t about business, it’s about connecting with people on both a personal and a professional level. This type of relationship building is especially powerful between women as there is a natural tendency to create these types of deeper relationships. In the entrepreneurial world, the line between business and life is often more blurred so it makes sense in those cases to surround yourself with people you enjoy spending time with.
2. Make it about them
People fascinate me. I’m never happier than when I’m delving deep into conversation and finding out what makes people tick. But the reason this helps me connect is because people really enjoy talking about themselves and I facilitate this. I very rarely talk to people about the subject of the event, if you can listen and provide real value to them without expecting anything in return this can have hugely positive rewards. Serve others and in turn they will try to help you. You don’t even have to have an innate interest in people to extract this, you just have to focus the conversation on how you can help or serve them.
3. Set Goals
With all the other things I have to do, the key to retaining energy is to research the events I’m attending and to not spend too long there. I’d rather nip into an event for an hour and feel able to really attend without expectations than spend a whole evening and expect really good connections to come out of it. That’s not to say I don’t have a set of goals; setting goals is key and I usually aim to connect with 3-4 people per event even it’s just to get a business card and email them a link to an interesting article.
4. It’s more about how and less about what
The product of two parents as teachers, Sunday lunch would not be complete without a poetry recitation or a performance for the family. I recognise that I was lucky because I now have very little fear of how I will be perceived in the spoken form. For me the lack of fear in public speaking comes from the fact that, unlike the written word which can be considered and judged, speaking is a one off performance which forms an impression and people generally remember very little of what was actually said. Networking is the same. I discovered that it matters far less what you say than how you say it. Positivity and friendliness will get you a long way.
5. Practical reminders
Attendees. Get hold of the delegate list before hand and try to target the people you want to talk to. Think about what you can offer them. For example connecting them with others you think it might be useful for them to meet.
Send a thank you. I always “thank” the speaker or host on social media afterwards (or even better while I’m there and in the zone!) as a great way to connect, introduce them to your online network and politely thank.
Keep business cards in a pocket. I’m forever leaving them in my hand-bag then leaving my bag on the table and having to excuse myself to get a card which really jars conversation.
Set a reminder to email the new contact as soon as you get to your desk the next day. I do it before I check my emails as I get distracted! I have a template email saved which I just amend and add a couple of personalised details before sending which takes me about 30 seconds. I bookmark interesting articles which I think might be useful so that I can attach one if appropriate and relevant.
Get yourself a system for filing and follow up. I blind copy myself into the email and drag that copy to a folder called “New Contacts” which I check around once per month. If a contact warrants a follow up I’ll do it from there.