This week I was asked to speak at a Business Angus event, sharing my tips and advice on networking. It can be such an undervalued marketing tactic as it is difficult to identify the specific return on investment.
Networking comes in many different forms; It may be an organised event with a membership organisation such as the chamber of commerce or BNI; a local business launching its new shop; or even the local community Highland Games.These are all opportunities to build connections and develop awareness of you and your business.
‘The Fear…’ We’ve all had to start somewhere and even someone like me who thrives on networking faced it again recently when I came back to the working environment after maternity leave. Approaching the room, your hands go sweaty, your throat dries up and you panic that everyone is going ignore you or think you’re not worth their time. (calm clinic)
The reality though is that everyone in that room is there for the same reason- To meet new people! So, brush that fear aside, walk into that room with a positive mindset and open up that first conversation – you’ll be surprised but those fears will melt away. If it's your first event, why not take a friend or colleague along to support you.
Networking has been a huge tool for me throughout my career; whether that was trying to change the brand perception of Perth Racecourse for hospitality and non-raceday events, open up avenues to speak to key decision makers in the oil & gas industry or build awareness for my new business Pereceptive Growth.
With this all in mind, I thought I’d share some of my top tips for effective networking.
- What do you want from the event? Last week, I went to an event in Dundee, purely because I wanted to meet the speaker Alasdair McGill. I’m pleased to say I achieved this plus I met lots of other great people. This helps make you feel like your time out of the office is worthwhile. Other examples may be to meet X new people, learn something new, or perhaps even solve an issue you have
- Elevator pitch - PLEASE don’t create an infomercial !! It’s a quick fire way to turn people off, but do take the time to figure out how to introduce your business in a concise and understandable manner. (Hubspot take a look at a few ways you might try and introduce your business)
- Business cards – it may be obvious but the amount of people who tell me they’ve ran out or forgotten them is ridiculous. How do you expect these people to find you if you don’t give them directions!
- Dress for the audience- You want to feel comfortable in your surroundings, that doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit all the time but perhaps don’t turn up in shredded jeans at a formal networking event.
Have a positive mindset
- Smile, be polite and sociable. There is a saying ‘smile and the world will smile with you.’ It’s very hard to walk away from someone who does this, so do yourself a favour and turn that frown upside down!
- Nerves – if you’re nervous try and think of a few icebreakers that will open up the initial conversation. Don’t leap into business talk if it doesn’t feel right, we’re far more likely to build rapport by discussing common interests be it sports, new stories or motivations for attending the event.
Think farmer not hunter
- Sales pitching, there is nothing worse than someone coming up to you and pitching their business straight at you. Think of the bigger picture and the impression that you’re setting, would you like it if they did it to you?
- Supermarket shelves…The people you meet are potentially your extended sales team. Building a good rapport helps to create trust in your business, before you know it they’ll be out singing your praises and basically selling your services for you.
- Not just the 40 people in the room. Every person you meet has a network, who they interact with. Don’t make the mistake and overlook the business that is not a direct prospect.
- Be an active listener – listen to what your new contact is saying, ask questions and show an interest.
- Try and be interesting! There is so much generic chat done at events sometimes, in reality these people are quickly forgotten. Be brave and share your stories, your passions and interests that’s what makes you stand out.
- Add value to the conversation – Stop thinking how can I get a sale, and think more about how you can help the person you are speaking to. I quite often share some quick pointers if they’ve hinted at some marketing struggles. I’ve also introduced them to some of my contacts that I can see using their services or there is a synergy in their line of work. By doing this you will become far more memorable, and people like to return favours – particularly for people they like
Moving on and exchanging cards
- Don’t cling to the first person you see. You have given up 2 hours to come to this event to make new contacts, don’t be scared to acknowledge that you’d like to meet some other faces around the room too. They’re in the same situation ! Invite someone else to join you or politely part ways, exchanging cards
- Exchanging details – Don’t forget to pass on your cards, when meeting lots of people it is hard to remember everyone’s names and companies- especially at an initial meeting.
- 24hours , You’ve just given up 2/3 hours of valuable time in the office, don’t throw this away by not engaging with your new contacts. Social media, email, telephone whatever the relevant method follow up politely and agree any actions promptly.
- Be focused. It is impossible, to actively develop relationships with everyone. Identify key contacts and focus your time and effort on developing these- remember its not always about the direct sales it could be a ‘supermarket shelf!’
- Building trust, it takes time to develop confidence and trust. Meeting a contact a few times will be one way to help facilitate this
- Quality not quantity, don’t rush round the room trying to speak to everyone. Think strategically and explore who you want to speak to, don’t afraid to ask the organiser to introduce you.
- Build a pipeline, In business sales doesn’t happen overnight, let your relationships develop and form part of your growth strategy
Networking isn’t a quick win, nor is it always easy to identify specific contract wins because of it. However plan ahead, identify your objectives for attending and follow up with your contacts and it will reap long term benefits.
If you’re like me and working on your own a lot of time, networking is a great way to boost energy, share ideas and get other people’s perspectives on projects. If I have a networking event booked that day, I know its going to be a productive day as I feed off the positive energy in the room and hopefully an inspiring speaker or two!