Improve Your Business Networking Skills In Three Simple Steps
Some love it, some hate it, but business networking is a valuable way to grow your business, generate new ideas and make new contacts who can help you to achieve your business objectives.
Whether you meet a potential client, future employee or industry expert, you can take something away from each and every networking event you attend if you approach it in the right way.
Many people have got their networking approach confused, believing that if they put their ‘networking hat’ on they will be able to work the room in record time and get back to the office with a stack of business cards to throw in their drawer and probably never look at again. Although you may feel you have made 30 new contacts, you probably haven’t started any new relationships.
If you’re looking in your desk drawer right now and you see a stack of business cards, all of which you cannot remember what the owner of each card even looked like, you may need to change your networking approach. For others, you may feel less confident networking and need some guidance on where to start. Whatever your current networking ability is, these three simple steps are sure to help you improve it.
1. Don’t just target the obvious people
When heading to a networking event, you may have already been given a list of attendees, or you might be going in blind, either way, it’s important not to be completely focussed on meeting specific people. Of course if one of your prospects is at the event, you should make an effort to speak to them, but hovering around them all day isn’t going to impress them.
If you storm into the networking event, heading straight for the MD of the biggest company there, you may be rushing right past a number of opportunities which are more likely to work for you. Take the time to talk to the people who you naturally come across first. Learn more about their businesses and whist you are talking, you may realise that there is an opportunity to work together. It may not be an obvious opportunity such as signing them up as a client but possibly an opportunity to work together, hosting an event and inviting both your contact lists which will provide further networking opportunities.
Think beyond the businesses top decision maker. They will be in high demand as people from various companies try to get their ideas in front of them. Try to talk to their colleagues if they are attending, especially if there is more than one of them. The key decision maker will always be in need of advice from their trusted colleagues and if they are all talking about you in a positive light then the decision maker will be keen to meet you.
2. Perfecting your approach
As mentioned earlier, donning your ‘networking hat’ and putting on a show just doesn’t cut it in today’s networking scene. You need to be authentic and genuine, open to talking about absolutely anything, not just your own personal objectives. The key thing to remember is that you are trying to create a relationship, which is something you shouldn’t rush.
You shouldn’t see networking as part of your job, another duty on the to-do list or a work related activity. Instead of calling it networking, think of it as socialising. Think beyond making business contacts and work on making friends. Perhaps you could meet a new tennis partner, or someone to discuss films with. Let your personality show through and people will be naturally drawn to you.
You should also remember that this is not a sales pitch, nobody came to the networking event to hear all about your new product which is ‘perfect for their businesses’. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak either. Make an effort to listen and ask questions. Hopefully you will be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying! This provides a great opportunity for you to arrange a second meeting as you can be keen to learn more from them at a later date.
3. Following up
One of the biggest mistakes people make when networking is not following up. You should try and mention to whoever you met at the networking event that you will be in touch soon to arrange a meeting. This way you’re email or phone call isn’t completely unexpected. You also shouldn’t leave it too long either as it is best to be fresh in their mind still when you make contact.
What you don’t want to do is just send a blanket email out to all of the people you met or even worse, all of the people on the attendee list, including the ones you did not meet! You should personalise your email to each individual, perhaps mentioning something you spoke about at the event. Suggest meeting to discuss things further, or possibly just for a catch up, and give dates you are available as well as a suggested meeting place. This could be at your place of work so they can get a feel for your business or a less formal meeting at a café may be more suitable.
If you don’t follow up and nurture the relationship then you have wasted your time. Even if the relationship offers no immediate opportunity, it may become more valuable to you in the future. Take time to develop your relationships because you never know when you might need them.
If you are able to follow these three simple steps and really apply them to your networking techniques, you will start to notice how rewarding your networking can become.