How do you feel if you hear the words ‘business networking’? Apprehensive, cynical, concerned about wasting the company’s time? For those who don’t find the process easy and natural we have put together some helpful tips.
Effective business networking simply links together individuals to build mutually beneficial relationships. Networking is probably the most effective and least expensive marketing tool at your disposal to build your business and as far removed from the hard sell as can possibly be.
If you invest the time and energy, you can develop a strong network of contacts which may have previously taken months to acquire.
It’s an opportunity to project your positive, happy, professional self in a non-threatening and open environment. People attending business networking events are not looking to judge, they are looking for synergy. And synergy creates excellent business relationships.
Top 8 business networking tips
- Choosing your networking opportunities with care is essential. Make a list of aims and objectives before you sign up. Not every group of people will be right for you. However, even if the opportunities and benefits aren’t immediately obvious, your company name can always be passed on and so never underestimate your audience.
- Remember a relaxed and confident persona rarely goes unnoticed. The development of a business relationship takes time and trust. Often, people approach networking events with the hope of closing a sale after just one visit. Though this may sometimes be a happy circumstance, it should not be your immediate expectation. Becoming an active member of any networking group is a very positive way to remain in profile.
- If you become an active and regular member of a group this in itself is an opportunity to be seen as a strong resource, people remember to come to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc.
- If you are approaching networking events with natural shyness or reticence, then preparation of a number of open-ended questions based on other attendees’ business operations is recommended. Do your homework before you go, and remember that your most valuable asset is your listening skill. A practiced listener will pick up and absorb synergy and business opportunities far faster than someone who is trying to convey too much verbally. If you do actively listen then you will have all the documentation you need to create and to continue that business link. Knowing something about the background of your business counterparts prior to meeting them face-to-face is not only reassuring but also flattering.
- Be articulate about what you do; another excellent form of preparation is to craft a short description of what you do. Bring plenty of business cards or concise promotional material with you.
- Always try to sit with people you don’t know, or try to talk to people standing on their own to widen your network and meet potential customers. If a person is alone, an easy conversation-opener is to say, “Do you mind if I sit here, or join you?”
- Dress to convey competence and pay attention to detail, even something as small as dirty finger nails can be off putting to potential clients, and try not to yawn! Often these events can be in the evenings after a hard day’s work – try to take time to freshen up before attending.
- Follow-ups take discipline – there is always another priority on return to the office. Factor in the time to send that email, make the phone call, or send on the information. Connect with your new prospects online, using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s a great instrument to continue your rapport and keep your leads warm. You can send them a simple message saying ‘do you remember we met at the networking event last week etc” Be proactive and invite someone to a one-to-one meeting so you can get to know them.