Networking is a vital part of modern business. It’s about building relationships, making connections, raising your profile and finding new career opportunities. However, walking into a room full of strangers and mingling effortlessly isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. With that in mind, here’s some advice to help you really get the most out of your of networking.
Do Your Research
If you’re looking to make contacts within a specific industry or area, selecting the right event can really help you zero in on your target market. It’s also useful to do some asking around beforehand to see who’s likely to attend. You might find that some of your current contacts will be there – if so, that’s great, a few familiar faces will make the situation a lot less daunting. You might even be able to use this shared experience to strengthen some of your existing relationships.
As well as dressing appropriately for the occasion (smart/casual is usually the safest option) make sure you’re fully loaded with all the necessary networking equipment. You should keep a good supply of business cards in an easily accessible place and carry a pen and notebook to jot down details after talking to potential contacts. One of the things that you’re guaranteed to be asked is: ‘what do you do?’ so if you can answer with a snappy and memorable pre-prepared response, it will give you more time to talk business.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
Don’t fall into the trap of finding someone you get along with and spending all your time talking just to them. Have a clear idea what you’re hoping to gain from the event and set some goals beforehand. Maybe there’s someone in particular you want to make a connection with? Maybe you want to raise your exposure by meeting ten new people? Give yourself a specific aim so that you’ve got something to work towards.
This can be tricky. For most people, introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met before feels incredibly awkward and unnatural. Keep in mind that everyone is there for the same reason and most of them will probably be feeling exactly the same way you do. Treat it as an informal chat and be yourself, it’ll be easier for people to talk to you if you look comfortable and friendly.
It’s not all about selling yourself so try not to launch into a sales pitch as soon as you meet someone. Be interested in what they have to say and ask questions – where they’ve travelled from, for example, or how they’re enjoying the event. Even if your conversation isn’t directly related to work, you’ve established a bond with them that will hopefully make you more memorable.
Social media is wonderful for this. A Linked In connection or the occasional tweet is great way to stay in touch. If it’s a really good contact, you could phone them or send an email. Be sure to personalise your message by relating it back to your conversation at the networking event, it’ll jog their memory and give them a solid reference point. Avoid being too pushy, bombarding them with constant messages will only irritate them and make you seem desperate.
Networking Is Only The Start…
Making initial connections and establishing new contacts are the foundations that you can build upon in the future. It’s unlikely that you’ll come away from one event with the deal of a lifetime so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Be confident and professional but try and enjoy the occasion too. It will really make an impression on the people you meet and your natural passion and enthusiasm will be free to shine.