Love it or loathe it?
Do you think of it as a welcome opportunity or just an uncomfortable get-together with strangers over breakfast?
In reality, networking is nothing to be scared of. Many of the people you meet at networking events will feel the same way you do, and like all such things, it gets easier with practice. Just remember that everyone is there for the same reason as you are.
But what if it’s not working? Spending time going to networking events can seem like a waste if business is not being generated, so what might be the problem? Here are some things to think about:
• Are you at the right networking group? Do some research before you attend, for example at an industry conference you may be able to contact last year’s attendees – was it worth it for them? For local events, will you be the only representative from your field or is it open to all?
• Always prepare. Practice giving a succinct description of your business and what you can offer (this is sometimes known as your ‘elevator pitch’, i.e. a speech you can give in the time it takes for a lift to go down a couple of floors). You don’t want to stumble over your words or get tongue-tied, and the secret to avoiding this is practice.
• Listen. And that doesn’t mean wait for gaps in the conversation so you can speak – really listen to what people are saying and ask questions. Being interested in what someone is telling you is the greatest compliment you can pay and a good way to get to know someone. People are likely to remember you for your interest.
• Be a farmer rather than a hunter. You may feel you have to track down your prey at networking events to make a sale, but you are more likely to find success by sowing seeds of interest and watching them grow over time. Making an immediate sale is great, but how much better would it be if the contact you nurtured over several months recommended you to five of their contacts? The secret to successful networking is building relationships which will become fruitful over time.
• Follow up. Make notes about the people you’ve met, file business cards, and contact them as soon as possible after the meeting. Why not ask if they would like to receive your regular newsletter?