If the thought of attending a networking event gives you heart palpitations don’t worry, you’re not alone. While it may be last on your list of favourite things to do, networking has the potential to present some very profitable opportunities for yourself and your business.
Benefits of Networking:
- Expand your professional network
- New business opportunities
- Brand exposure
Networking also provides the opportunity to trade ideas with other like-minded individuals in an encouraging environment. It’s a useful platform to share business difficulties and successes to help build trust. Importantly in the digital age, networking events offer a personal touch to doing business. It allows people to connect with a genuine and authentic interest with other fellow business colleagues.
Best Practice Network Facilitator Kevin Bennett explains, “Active networking is vital to career and personal growth. Often confused with selling, networking is actually about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return.”
To help you enhance your networking in 2019, we’ve put together a range of ideas to help you become a pro in no time.
Though there’s increasing pressure on the world to move into the digital space, there’s still a significant advantage to offline networking. Imagine trying to strike up a conversation about someone’s kids or pets via LinkedIn – it might just seem creepy. However, within the confines of a networking event with a champers in-hand, you have greater freedom for topics of conversation and reading your audience.
1. Location, location, location
First choose the location and type of networking event you’re looking to join. Look for a few key, regular networking events that are a good fit for your business and consistent with your audience. You’ll need to consider the style of event, seated or standing, and whether you need to factor any costs into your business budget.
There’s plenty of events to choose from whether it’s finding a location near you via MeetUp or checking in with your local chamber of commerce to see what networking events they’re hosting. It’s also worth looking at a BNI Chapter near you. They’re an organisation internationally recognised for business networking and referrals. BNI has over “240,000 members in 8500- plus chapters worldwide and in 2017 alone BNI referrals generated $13.6Billion USD in revenue for member businesses.”
2. Set Your Goals
Are you looking to build connections or acquire new customers? Set your goals for what you want to achieve out of your networking. You might even be looking to just successfully engage in conversation with someone and find out a little more about them and consider if their services could be useful for someone in your own professional network (referrals are always well received).
3. Pitch perfect
Have your thirty second elevator speech down pat, and don’t be afraid to promote yourself. First impressions count, so try and make your spiel as polished and natural as possible.
International Award-Winning Personal Brand Specialist Lauren Clemett, teaches her clients to use what’s known as the BEST formula. She explains, “the formula is based on Neurobranding science and engages the brain so your pitch cut's through the noise and creates that intrigue:B - Be Clear - avoid jargon. If a 12-year-old understands your pitch you are onto a winnerE - Exactly who you help. You need to be relatable and ensure they connect with your pitchS - Solve a problem. This is vital if you want your pitch to resonateT - Tell them why - people want to know that you have a vested interest in helping them.”
4. Conversation Topics
There’s more to conversations then just the familiar weather and sport. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself stuck in a conversation that’s going on longer than it should about the latest tropical low developing in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Syliva McFairlane, CPA/Lending Specialist Coach and Mentor reminds us to always keep in mind, “The aim of attending meetings or engaging in conversations is to learn about your fellow members and their businesses.”
Always strike a balance between talking and listening. Err more on the side of listening then talking and try not to let your own personal thoughts and beliefs on a topic interfere. Listen openly and you might be pleasantly surprised at what you learn and glean from the conversation.
Remember it’s all about trying to build genuine relationships that evolve naturally and are not forced. Try these conversation starters to help lead conversation:
- How long have you worked in the industry? What do you enjoy most about it?
- What does a day to day look like in your role?
- What are the current challenges facing your industry?
- What do you enjoy most about your role?
- What do you do in your spare time?
Try to keep the conversations brief and to the point unless you feel it’s going great and you can comfortably continue without feeling you’re not trying to make it happen. The rule of thumb is short and sweet.
5. Follow up
Following up after any networking event is important to keep you “top of mind.” It also reinforces your genuine intention to connect and establish an ongoing relationship. The type of follow-up can depend on what you were looking to get out of the connection. A business lead follow-up will be completely different to a professional networking relationship.
Charity Warburton, Executive Director of BNI Sunshine Coast sums up the importance of following up perfectly. Charity says, “When you meet away from the general networking session, you deepen the relationship and dial up the focus of your networking efforts. To maximize the energy of the partnership you're forging with your referral sources, it's critical to spend time with them. Just going to a social function or sitting side-by-side at some type of conference or networking event isn't enough. You have to be face-to-face, exploring commonalities and complimentary aspects of each of your businesses, to be powerful referral sources for each other.”
The Business Lead Follow-up
An email is always acceptable and is perfect to get the ball rolling. Following up with a phone call is also another option. It depends however, the type of profession the person is in and if this is the best way to get in touch. Emails tend to be the preferred option, but if you send an email and do not hear back then a follow up phone call is perfectly reasonable.
The Professional Networking Relationship Follow-up
Connecting via social networks is a great way to follow up in a subtle and less direct way. LinkedIn is the ideal business social media platform to connect with them so you have a communication method in future. Avoid a Facebook request or following them on Instagram for now, you’re not besties.
Online networking can be a great way to support your offline networking, or as a precursor to events. It can be a valuable tool for business development and increasing your professional network and personal brand.
1. Pick your Channel
LinkedIn is the main channel for building professional networks. Though you might find you get the odd Facebook friend request from someone in your industry, it’s best to stick to LinkedIn for professional purposes. Your potential business leads don’t really need to see photos of your weekend or how many dog memes your friends are tagging you in.
2. Set Your Goals
What are you hoping to achieve out of your new LinkedIn connections? Are you looking to connect with like-minded individuals are find great content? Or perhaps you’re looking to build leads for your business. It’s important to define your goals for your online networking so you have a plan to work to and aren’t just sending out requests to anyone in your location.
3. Dress your profile to impress
Your LinkedIn profile is your outfit and your CV for online networking. While you have the luxury of potential connections being able to peruse your professional history at their leisure, it means that you need to put your best profile-foot forward at all times.
Make sure you consider these important elements:
- Professional Profile Picture – No selfies or snapchat filters here, just a simple professional photo that clearly shows your face.
- Recommendations – Can you ask any clients or suppliers to recommend your work? A public recommendation will do wonders for your profile credibility.
- Spelling – Make sure you run your profile through spell-check in Word or using an extension on your browser. No sloppy spelling or grammatical errors.
- Clear and concise business info – Ensure that who you are and what you do is clear and concise for potential business leads to read and understand.
4. Find potential connections
LinkedIn provides you a myriad of ways to find new connections. First, you can connect your account to your email so of your current contacts can be added to your network. LinkedIn will make recommendations of potential connections that you might like.
You also have the option of using the search function to find specific people by their name, role, industry, or current workplace. It’s a great way to connect with someone before an event or meeting to find some potential talking points, and so you know what they look like.
5. Pitch perfect
Your introduction pitch with your LinkedIn request will vary depending on the goal for the connection. If you’re just looking to connect to share ideas or content then you could go with something as simple as:
Hi [NAME], I’m looking to connect with like-minded professionals in the [X] industry and came across your profile. I’m interested to see the content you share and potentially catch-up at a networking event in future.
If you’re looking for a business lead, then you introductory message will be more like a pitch, where you’ll need to introduce yourself, your business and why you’re the business for them. Ideally, you’ll add a call-to-action like :
- “when is a good time to schedule a phone call to discuss?”
- “I’d love to take you for a coffee to discuss in more detail, when are you free?”
- “I have some more information that I’d love to email through to you, what is your email address?”
The idea of the call-to-action is that it should be an open-ended question, and illicit a yes or no response. Your aim is to get them out of LinkedIn and on the phone, reading an email, or meeting in person.
6. Get that meeting
You’ve sent your message, they’ve accepted your connection request, but you still haven’t heard back from them. Don’t fret, they might be busy and you can definitely follow up with a polite hello and try to organise a time to meet. Whether it’s a 5-minute phone call, or you’re luring them out of the office with a free coffee or lunch, make sure you get that meeting!
7. Share quality content
While your new connections might not need anything from you right now, and you might not need anything from them, it’s great to stay front-of-mind and building your personal brand by sharing quality content. This could be articles you’ve found from reputable sources, or even your own LinkedIn articles provoking conversation and thought around your industry. Subscribe to blogs or LinkedIn pages from your industry to stay up to date with changes and trends.
Troubleshooting for Networking
A Graceful Exit
We’ve all been trapped in a conversation before that isn’t going anywhere. Though you’re probably more familiar with it happening at family events where Aunt Beryl keeps talking about her latest appliance purchase, you do not want to get trapped at a networking event where time is potentially money. There’s a subtle art to gracefully exiting a conversation.
The Bathroom Break
When nature calls it’s time to answer. A quick “I’m just off to the bathroom” line can be your saving grace when trapped in conversation. Unfortunately, you will need to wait for a break in the conversation to interject (depending on the level of bathroom emergency) and it can be more difficult in one-on-one situations.
The Drink Top-Up
Excusing yourself to top up your drink can be a good excuse to exit conversations but does come with a few potential flags. You would need to make sure that your conversation counterpart also doesn’t need a top up, and if there’s waitstaff roaming with drinks then that makes it even harder.
The “I won’t take up any more of your valuable time”
This is a nice way of saying we’ve been chatting for a while and we both need to talk to other people. You can handover a business card and propose a post-event catch up (providing you want to) to continue the conversation later.
Meeting new people can be difficult at the best of times. If you’re an introverted type, then networking events can be daunting and may require a little more preparation.
Make notes and know your material. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a few notes prior to the event about potential topics to talk about, how you’re going to introduce yourself and maybe even doing a bit of research about the event itself as to what type of business professionals attend. You could even go that one step further and find out a little more about each industry if it’s one you’re not familiar with. You might find that you’re more confident to start up conversations when you’ve got a basic understanding about the industry.
Work Wellness Coach Katherine Rose suggests, “First up, speak with the organisers before the event. You can mention you’re a little nervous or new to networking and ask if they can connect you with another attendee. That way, you already know who to approach the moment you walk in the door.”
Taking a short moment in the car, foyer or just somewhere quiet, before you arrive at the event to take a few deep breathes is very productive in helping to settle any nerves and anxiety. It’s ok to take a moment out to regroup. Whether you just need to leave the room for a short time, this might be all you need to regain your composure and settle any thoughts.
Always remember to be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if the event didn’t go as planned. If you continue to attend networking events, it will get easier.
Soft Skills Are Key
Networking Strategist Julia Palmer from Relatus says, “In an increasingly digitised and automated world, profession networks and relational capabilities will be your advantage. Organisations today want longevity, sustainability, growth, advocacy, referrals, retention, and a great reputation. Therefore, a focus on developing soft, social and emotional skills, will be the differentiator to success.
The questions to consider are;
- Is there a gap between your intention and how you are perceived in your relationships?
- How conscious or deliberate are you at creating a network that is aligned to your role?
- How conscious or deliberate are you at managing a network so that it benefits you and those in it?”
Network Your Way To Success
While networking is yet one more activity to add to your long list of things to get done, the benefits for your business are undeniable.
As Kevin so succinctly points out, “People like to do business with people they like, people they trust, and people they know through other friends and shared connections.”
It’s a win-win for your business and an activity that continues to “give back.” Networking is well worth your investment.