For me, the idea of networking conjures up images of sharp shooting business professionals bedecked with a ready smile and the catchy opener: So, what do you do? They ‘listen’ as you tell your story, nodding their head robotically; interjecting with the occasional Ah ha…, Very interesting… and I see… You, knowing full well that within 20 seconds they had made up their minds whether or not you were ‘of interest’ and if not were already scanning the room over your shoulder for their next target.
But good networking, effective networking, should never be like this. It’s about being in the right room, with the right people, at the right time. It’s about listening and being listened to, and of course finding new contacts that will help you and your business grow.
Boost your network, boost your net worth!
From the time I started my own journey on New Frontiers, we were constantly encouraged to grow our networks and share contacts with our fellow participants. This proactive and collaborative approach broke down many personal barriers I had to networking, and allowed me to critically analyse and recognise its potential value.
My favourite story was of the entrepreneur who, after a long, unsuccessful day of pitching to potential investors was feeling deflated and defeated as she boarded the train home. Wanting nothing more than to be left in peace, she initially ignored the chit chat advances from the passenger who sat opposite. However, not to appear rude, she entered into general conversation and it was not long before the discussion fell into the familiar territory of: So, what do you do? Telling her story and details of her own startup came easily in the relaxing ambience of the train carriage. By the time she had reached her destination, the entrepreneur had won over her fellow passenger – an investor – and landed a €200k windfall for her emerging business. The moral of the story… networking can happen anywhere, so always be pitch-ready!
OK, so this fairy-tale doesn’t happen to everyone; but it does happen. Which is why I want to share my essentials to help kick-start your networking habit!
Top networking tips
Get (old school) social
I soon realised that ‘liking’ someone or connecting via social media was not really enough to boost my business contacts. Don’t get me wrong, social media networking is excellent for creating a buzz around you and your brand. You can target your message to a particular audience, in a certain location, with a specific interest – and that’s great. However, quality beats quantity and there is nothing better than some good old fashioned ‘3D’ networking – going face-to-face.
Body language is key here. A good handshake, an open smile and being able to look someone in the eye can do more for your business than a solitary click on a keyboard.
How to find events
If I’m honest, as soon as I started looking for events I realised I could be attending one every day of the week. So, when it comes to events, be selective. Think hard about whether or not they suitable to your chosen field and if will they be attended by the kinds of people who can help you or who you can collaborate with.
The best ways to find quality events to attend are:
- Join business networks: Women Mean Business (WMB), Network Ireland, Business Network International (BNI), etc.
- Attend events organised by your Local Enterprise Office (LEO)
- Look up conferences relevant to your area
- Business media events: Sunday Business Post, Business Independent, etc.
- Breakfast Events: Google Breakfast Meetings, Image Magazine Breakfast Networks
- Business Organisations events: Enterprise Ireland, Small Firms Association (SFA), Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), etc.
How to prepare
Before you attend an event, do some research on those who are attending. Find out which companies will be represented and by whom. Many a time, I would loiter at the registration desk (looking for my name badge) to get the first names of those attending. It’s also handy if their job title is listed.
Be pitch perfect! I don’t mean a 15 minute spiel on who you are and what your company is all about. Have your business down to 30 seconds maximum! Just enough to cover a walk to the coffee table, or when you first sit down. Enough to trigger interest and to invite that all important response: Really? Tell me more… It could go something like this:
Brainwave is an emerging technology that allows you to record your ideas while you are out and about and while you sleep (key phrase: emerging technology)
AgriKids is an award-winning farm safety educational platform for children (key phrase: award-winning)
Scruffy Wuffies is a mobile pet grooming parlour and we’ve just launched our first franchise (key phrase: franchise)
Having your ‘elevator pitch’ ready and primed can make a good networking event, great.
How to behave
If you have your pitch on standby and you have done your pre-event research all that is left to do is listen!
When you approach someone, it’s always nice to extend your hand or offer to get someone a coffee or tea. It’s open and friendly and offers some welcome distraction from the business talk! Then, over a cuppa, it’s always nice to ask the person something about themselves: Have you come far?.., Where are you based?.., There are some good speakers here today… If you launch straight into the business talk, you do yourself out of some very valuable small talk opportunities. People will not share if they feel they are been grilled or ‘interviewed’ from the get-go.
As the conversation progresses, or if the other person initiates it, then by all means it’s time to talk business. If the conversation has gone well and some synergies and opportunities have been unearthed, make sure you leave with their business card (always better you get theirs as well as the other way around).
If you made some good contacts and identified some real opportunities, make sure you follow up with an email or a phone call and by all means connect on social media.
If you listened well you may also have found some useful contacts for other people in your own network. Do pass on the details and share, this spirit of collaboration will always find its way back to you, that’s business karma!
The art of networking is definitely a habit worth forming! It’s not always easy, but nothing worth having ever is.