Networking remains one of the most effective ways to make new contacts and drum up potential leads – if you do it well. For some, forging new relationships in this way is something they relish and thrive on. They are in their element within a networking setting.
But if you cringe at the thought then fear not. There are now more opportunities than ever before to network from the comfort of your own desk or arm chair, as well as a range of different styles of face-to-face events.
Networking like a pro takes time – from prepping beforehand, to participating and the all-important follow up. Whether it has worked for you in the past or not, heading into a new year is a great time to step back, review, research and plan in what else you could try. Or to think what you could be doing better.
Are you making the best use of your time? And how are you making sure that every second you’re committing to building your network is time well spent? If you haven’t tried it before, or haven’t done anything recently, then is it time to take the plunge again?
Here are our top tips for getting the most out of networking:
Find what works and ditch what doesn’t
If you’ve given a networking group a fair go but the rewards you’re reaping simply aren’t matching up to your efforts, then move on and try something new. Don’t get disheartened. You may need to try out a few different options before you hit on the best one for your target customer. When was the last time you researched what’s going on near you? Have you asked for recommendations from your existing contacts? (That can be a great line of conversation to use on LinkedIn in a regional business discussion group, or using a regional hashtag on Twitter for example).
Online credibility check
Before you go networking, check your online profile is the strongest it can be. Sites like LinkedIn continue to be an amazing tool for businesses and making connections. When did you last check your profile was up-to-date and fully filled out? Remember every element on your page says something about you, from the people you put as your influencers to the organisations and industry bodies you follow. It’s a living CV that should aid your credibility if someone visits your page.
The huge benefit of connecting with people on LinkedIn is that even if they move on to pastures new you will remain connected. How many contacts have you lost in the past when they’ve changed companies? It can also show you who you may have in common with those you want to connect with, and who may be willing to give you an introduction.
Excel at face-to-face
Now you’ve found a networking event to attend and you’re raring to go, it’s time to get preparing. Along with the obvious (making sure you know where you’re going, you’re dressed smartly and have enough business cards) there’s a lot more you can be doing.
- 1. Prep
- Do you have a list of who will be attending? And if so, have you done your research? Looked into their companies, read their recent news page, browsed their services etc. No reason to wait in some cases, you can even approach people before the event itself saying you’re looking forward to it and to meeting them. Tag in the organisers and use the event hashtag, if there is one, as this will help you connect that way too.
- If there is someone you specifically want to target on the day then you can also see if their photo is online, so you can spot them far more easily than simply scanning name badges.
- 2. At the event itself
- Nothing will turn someone off more than being hit by a self-focused or sales-heavy introduction. Yes these events are about getting across what you do, but this should be done in a very quick and easy to understand way. Your core aim for these events should be to get other people talking – ask about their business, how they got into it, what the future holds. Enter their world. Listen and be interested and you’ll leave a positive impression.
- Even if you think someone isn’t going to be a potential prospect, people know people, and you never know when that connection could lead to something in the future. That said, if you feel you are being monopolised too long then you can always use the tried and tested excuse of popping to the loo!
- Another tip here is to jot down key words on the back of the business cards you pick up so you remember who was who, and don’t forget any nuggets of info that you may hear. For more detailed notes you can of course use your phone or even a pen and paper if you prefer to keep it old school.
- 3. Follow up
- The next day is the ideal time to start capitalising on the business connections you have made, while you’re fresh in their minds. Add the contact info and any notes you took to your contacts list. By doing it straightaway you’re more likely to remember important details and won’t risk losing the business cards or your notes.
- Link with them where you can on social sites and individually email all the contacts you met. The important thing here is not to send them a sales email. You’re not selling here you’re cementing a contact by saying hello.
- If you didn’t get to speak with someone then see if you can spot them on any social media sites, or find their email off their company website, and send them a message. Say it was a shame you didn’t get to speak and that you’d love the opportunity to learn more about their business.
Remember to make the most of online networking opportunities too, such as groups and discussion streams on LinkedIn. There are also regional business and industry forums online that can work in the same way.
Check you’re part of any groups you should be and take part regularly in the chats that are going on. That way you will be making yourself visible in all the right places. By commenting you may also be able to position yourself as an expert in your field and to give yourself even more credibility. Just one huge rule here – NO SALES PATTER.
You can also initiate conversations by asking questions that aim to gather advice or opinions – but again, always avoid being salesy. One example could be that you have seen a good industry-related article that prompts debate. You could use that link within a post and ask if people agree or disagree. An extra tip here is to diarise time to do this type of activity, so you don’t forget or let other stuff get in the way so your good intentions keep slipping.
And keep at it! The rewards of networking really are worth the effort.
You may also be interested in reading How to beat customer churn.