Introduction: As a business owner I’ve learned many things, usually by making mistakes—sometimes expensive mistakes. If passing on the things I’ve learned may help someone, then I think I have a duty to help, as others have helped me. With that in mind, let me just say that if you find something that works for you, feel free to ignore me if I contradict your method. We’re all different.
Over a number of years I’ve been to many networking events, in many locations and formats. I’ve felt like a fish out of water any number of times, but over the years I’ve learned that the dynamics of networking change very little. You may be at a very formal event in swish surroundings, or you may be at a corporate hog-roast in the middle of a field. It may be a hotel, a restaurant, or a public bar. It doesn’t really matter a great deal; the important thing is to know how to ‘work the room.’
Everyone Has To Start Somewhere: The most important people you will meet in your business (after the customer or client) are other businessmen and women. Networking helps you to build up a contact and information book or database. This information that you gather will help you to get new customers or clients, and it will help you if you have a problem. Someone knows the answer, even if you don’t. Others network for exactly the same reason. Some day you may become the customer or client; someday you may be able to help them when they have a problem. Your networking contacts are like a support network for businesses.
Networking can be done in your day-to-day business dealing, or it can be done at many of the business networking groups that are accessible to you as a business owner. If you’ve never been networking with one of these groups, it can be very daunting. Who do I talk to? Will they talk to me? Will I fit in? How do I get the most from this new situation?
All of these questions go through your mind—I know, because I’ve been there! Fortunately it’s really not that difficult to “network”, even if you’re surrounded by total strangers. Obviously it’s easier if you know someone who is already into networking and they can act as your “wingman”, but not knowing anyone there shouldn’t be an obstacle to you. There are many books available that will teach you the basics. Don’t be afraid. After all, running a business isn’t for the faint-hearted!
Pitch Your Business: Some networking events expect you to formally address a roomful of people with a short (usually 30 to 60 seconds) pitch about your business, about you, and about why people should work with you. This is often terrifying for a new networker. No matter, we all have to do things that terrify us. Sometimes we even grow to enjoy these things.
Your pitch is as important when talking to a single person as it is when talking to a room. It doesn’t have to be the same pitch, and your pitch can and should be tailored to your situation. Just remember, keep it short, and be confident.
For more details on how to write a pitch, just search the internet for ‘elevator pitch’. There are thousands of articles and videos that will help you. Read, watch, and take notes. Your exam is the continued success of your business.
Self-Affirmation: For those who don’t know, an affirmation is a declaration of something that you believe to be true. Using affirmations can increase confidence and self-esteem, and this feeling of having control can help you to be successful in the things you choose to do.
When going to a networking function, even if you’ve been before, it helps to have your affirmations foremost in your mind. Some affirmations that I’ve found useful include:
- I’m a nice person—I will be accepted.
- I’m as good as anyone here.
- OK, so I’m a little nervous, but then so is everyone else.
- I’m looking forward to this.
- If I’m friendly and polite, people will like me quickly.
- I will remember to smile, use eye contact, shake hands, and above all remember people’s names!
- When I act confident, I will become confident.
- Everyone is here to meet new contacts, not just me.
- I’m going to make some worthwhile contacts here.
- I will ask questions of others, and not just talk about myself.
- There will be positive opportunities here, and I will find them and follow them. I’m sure I can create some opportunities too.
- No matter what happens, I will have a good time here.
You don’t have to use affirmations, but it doesn’t hurt to try them if you find yourself being nervous or afraid. Don’t be scared to admit to these feelings—the first time I went to a dedicated networking meeting I was terrified! Affirmations helped me then, and still do, even now.
Using the Room and Reading the People: Look around the room when you arrive. If you’re not the first to arrive you’ll see people in groups. There are only six types of groups that you’ll see. Identifying the group types makes networking simpler and more enjoyable, and allows the optimum use of your time without treading on other people’s toes. Almost everyone will be polite and courteous, and they’re all there for the same reason you are.
Identifying groups that can be joined simplifies networking enormously.
Individuals—These people usually don’t know anyone, and often don’t know how to start to interact. They want someone to talk to them first, so why not go and say hello?
Open couples and trios—These groups arrange themselves on adjacent faces of a triangle or square. Go and say hello. They want to meet people, the same way you want to meet people.
Closed couples and trios—Their face to face positioning and body language say that they’re comfortable talking together and are not currently looking for new group members. Keep an eye on them; they will usually open up at some point.
Larger groups (four or more)—Enter the group only if you know someone, or if someone you know introduces you to them.
You may find rude, loud or brash people, singly or grouped – if you do it’s up to you what you decide to do. You can take a chance and join them, or ignore them. Don’t let first impressions put you off though. Some of my best contacts are people who seemed rude, loud or brash—sometimes all three!
When interacting with people, treat them with the respect and courtesy that you would want them to treat you with. You only have one reputation – don’t sully it by being rude and impolite.
Introduce yourself. Say something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Steve. Steve Cuthbertson.” That’s what I would say. Obviously it would make more sense for you to use your name at this point! This gives people a chance to absorb your name, and stops them trying to remember who you are when they should be concentrating on what it is you’re saying to them. If you’re wearing a name badge, pin it on the right rather than the left. When someone shakes your hand, their eyes travel up your arm to your badge. Wear it at a slant, or even upside down. Make them work to read it. They will remember it better that way.
When having a conversation, take turns. Try not to interrupt, and don’t talk over someone who s talking to you. There are ways to leave a conversation without being obviously rude. Don’t cut people short, and don’t just walk off.
Don’t start talking to other people and suddenly ignore the person you were talking to. Give them an option to stay and talk, or to continue on their way.
When talking to people, don’t be afraid to introduce them to others if you feel that they will benefit from the introduction. A good mix when networking benefits all of those involved.
The above advice applies to you too. Don’t overstay your welcome by continuing talking after all has already been said. They want to meet other people the same as you do.
If they really outstay their welcome, don’t be afraid to introduce them to others who you know and move on when they start to talk. Not only does it free you up, it gives them the opportunity to create new contacts and possible business prospects. If that happens to you, think about why it might have happened.
Even if you arrive at the venue with another person, try not to “hunt” as a pair. If you separate, there’s twice as much chance of meeting a good contact. Keep an eye on your partner though, and if they signal or the group dynamic allows by all means join in with them and the person they are talking to.
A Business Card is More Than Just a Card: A business card isn’t something to be put into a folder and forgotten. It is the entrance pass to a potential customer or client, and a ‘get out of jail’ card for future needs or problems.
Make sure that you are well stocked with your cards, and never be afraid to ask your contact for a card. Don’t just swap cards for the sake of it though; use the card as a tool to learn more about your contact. In my experience it is better to ask for cards towards the end of a conversation, but you will learn what works best for you.
It is a good idea to ask if that is their card or a general company card. If it is a company card, make sure that you write their name on the card. If it is their card, read their name out loud. It will help you to remember their name.
Ask which of the numbers on the card they prefer to be contacted on, and underline it so you don’t forget. Ask if they mind being contacted in the next few days as a follow up. Make a note about what they say, and respect their answer.
Ask if they use LinkedIn or Twitter, and if they mind you adding them to your network. If they don’t mind, try and get their social media name. Write it down.
Many people only print one side of their cards. Make use of that, by making notes on the card so you don’t forget. By writing things down you can’t forget, and you don’t mix people up!
Following Up—It’s not over when it’s over: OK, so the networking meeting is over. You met some people, you got some business cards, and you made some contacts. That’s it, right?
Now is the time to remind your contact who you are, what you can do, what they can do for you. Organise your schedule so that you can call the contacts you’ve made over the next day or two. Any longer than that and you run the risk of being forgotten about.
Don’t be nervous. Your contact already knows a little about you and what you do, and they will likely be expecting a call from you.
If you don’t call, what will they think of you?
Call Planning: Use the notes that you made on the business card the notes you made afterwards to recap the conversation you had. You did make notes, didn’t you?
Do some background research on the contact and the company that they own or work for. Use the web, or maybe use your existing contacts and ask around.
When it comes time to call the contact, be prepared. Someone else may answer the telephone, so just ask for the person you’re calling. Remember, they’re expecting you to call at some point.
When you get through, remind them who you are and where you met. Make the reason for your call clear. Much as you both may enjoy chatting, you’re both busy people.
Don’t be upset if they say that they’re busy. Ask if you could call at some other time. If they say that they’ll call you, respect that.
If you’re making an offer or proposal to them, and they say no, remember it’s not you that they’re rejecting. Also remember that when people say no, it rarely means never; it usually means not now.
The worst that can happen is that they say that they’ll call you if they’re interested.
Using LinkedIn and Twitter: LinkedIn and Twitter are two very powerful social media platforms, and both will help you keep in touch with existing contacts. With care, they can help you make new contacts too. We are using them now to link with the contacts we’ve made at the last meeting.
On Twitter, it is easy to follow your contact. Hopefully they’ll follow you back. If not, there’s not a lot you can do. On LinkedIn you have to connect with your contact by sending them a request. When asking to connect with someone, don’t use the default message. People are much more likely to say yes to a tailored personal message.
Keep your status updated. Your status can inform your network of contacts of useful or interesting business news, offers or ideas that you may have. Have a good company profile. Make sure people can see your services and products, keep it updated with the business status and make sure all information is current.
Don’t only add the people you meet. Look for new contacts that may be able to help you, and in sectors you may want to sell to. Learn how to use the advanced search feature to find new contacts.
Follow companies that interest you or you feel may be interested in you and your products or services. Keep an eye on who is reading your pages, and contact or connect where necessary. Get involved with groups that interest you and in groups that you can help people in. It makes you and your business more visible, but remember—don’t be pushy.
Summary: You can succeed in business without networking, but it is much easier if you have contacts that can help where necessary. Don’t be put off by the fear of strangers if or when you’re invited to a networking event. We’ve all been there; we’ve got the tee-shirts. Because we’ve done it, we know what it’s like for newcomers. We will welcome you because we were welcomed when we started.
Recently I’ve joined a networking group called TheBizniz.com. It is owned and run by a man called Scott Dove, and it exists to give its members a platform where they can find local networking events, find out who is attending these events, and book places at the events. There are a number of geographical areas that they cover for physical person-to-person networking, and a website that covers the entire UK. It’s free to join, and is an excellent resource. There are basic facilities on the website for free members, and enhanced facilities for paying or ‘premium’ members. Scott is on hand to help, and the network is a great support service and business directory for business owners. As with all online resources you get out what you put in, and the better your profile and the more you use the site the more you can use the information to grow your business.
TheBizniz.com run informal events which are ideal beginners to networking and for those who quake with fear at the thought of addressing a room full of silent people. The meetings are as much a social event as a network event. Recommended. (Twitter: @BiznizUK / @TheBiznizdotcom)