One of the biggest trends over the past 18 months has been the resurgence in the appreciation of communities. As the pandemic hit, people looked for ways to stay connected and to support and collaborate with each other. Whether online or physically, they have been proactive to create groups and associations with like-minded and locally located individuals.
As lockdowns come to an end and businesspeople once again start to work in offices, to socialise and network, we predict that many of these communities will go from strength to strength. And for building them, good old-fashioned networking is coming back into vogue!
Some people are naturals when it comes to networking, but if you’re not, here are 7 tips that we hope you’ll find useful for making your networking pay.
1. Have an objective
The first consideration is, why is it that you are planning to attend at all? It’s always nice to chat over a couple of glasses of wine or a hotel breakfast, but there is time, effort and expense in attending, and you need to feel that you are getting value.
Are you planning to meet a specific person, to find new suppliers, customers or employees? Are you buying, selling, promoting your brand or a specific campaign message? Perhaps you are lobbying or looking for market research. Whatever your reason, be clear in your own mind what you are hoping to achieve, and approach all of your conversations with your objective in mind.
2. Select your event carefully
There is no shortage of networking events to attend, so make sure you choose ones that have the best chance of achieving your objectives. The closest or cheapest is unlikely to be the best option for you, so do some research.
Find out who has attended previous events, or ask peers which events they have found to be the most productive. Check out the groups on Linkedin and see how active members are. You are unlikely to meet owners of local small businesses and C Suite executives from tech scale ups at the same event, so know your audience and where to find them.
3. Practice your pitch
In some networking groups it’s common practice to be given 40 seconds or a minute to pitch your business to the other delegates. Of course, if you are expecting that, it’s a good idea to write, hone and practice in advance. However, it’s more likely that the type of networking you’re considering is based around talking with people one to one.
If that’s the case, you are unlikely to want to fall back on a standard elevator pitch, but it’s equally important to think about key messages and how to frame them. You will want to consider what examples you can give to support your pitch and if you have identified specific individuals or companies that you want to impress, to select case studies that will be relevant to them.
4. Two ears, one mouth
You have an objective, and your pitch worked out but you are not alone in that, and people don’t like being sold to, even at networking events. It’s a good strategy to remember the adage of having two ears, one mouth, and using them in that proportion. Most people love talking about themselves and their business, so let them. Listen to what they have to say and ask lots of clarifying questions. Look for issues and pain points that you believe you can address and ask them, “would it help you if we could make that process easier for you?”. You’ll move from selling to supporting and who doesn’t want that?
5. Work the room
It’s human nature to gravitate towards people that you already know, so when you first arrive at an event, it’s likely that you’ll be catching up with existing contacts. The key is not to get stuck spending the entire time swapping anecdotes, but to politely move on and introduce yourself to the new people that you are targeting.
A personal introduction is always welcome, so if you notice someone you know speaking with someone you would like to meet, it’s a good idea to ask them to introduce you. Clearly, they also have their own objectives for the evening, so pick your time sensitively. Once you have spoken to people, be mindful that they too will have other people they want to talk to, and don’t monopolise their time.
6. Be clear on next steps
If you have had a meaningful conversation with someone and there is an opportunity to take it further, be clear about what the next steps are. Most people have their diary on their phone, make an appointment there and then. If that’s not appropriate, ask when will be a convenient time to follow up to arrange a meeting? If they have asked for further information from you, be clear about what you will send, how and when.
New opportunities can be hard to find, don’t waste them by leaving the next steps vague or ambiguous. Be clear who is calling who, when and why.
7. Follow through
If you are going to turn your new opportunities into paying business, make sure you follow through on your promises. Many people walk away from networking events with a pocketful of business cards that end up in a drawer or box and never see the light of day again. These are the people who network reluctantly and will tell you there is no value in it.
Connect on Linkedin, add the people to your CRM, write and remind them of your conversation. Make the calls, send the information, arrange the meetings and deliver value and you’ll be sure to see a return.