In business, the best way to getting to know people to help your company grow is by networking. It’s a great way to boost your profile, meet potential partners, suppliers and investors or even win new customers. A quarter of all SMEs source more than half of new business through networking, with the retail industry generating the most leads per year. 92% of people said that referral groups were successful for generating new business leads with 52% of people saying engaging with existing clients has helped.* However the thought of networking strikes a fear in many people’s hearts; here’s our advice on successful networking.
Take business cards
Over half of networkers forget to bring one whilst a third have encountered being given the wrong one. Always have a professional looking business card ready to hand out rather than fumbling through your pockets and bag to realise you’ve forgotten it. People will often judge you by this so invest time and money into yours to reflect your company in the best light. Offering a business card should be a bit of a trade process: you should get as many in return as the amount you give out. This will help people to remember you effectively amongst all the other people they’ve met. Besides from giving out a card, remember to have a strong firm handshake whilst making eye contact.
Have an elevator pitch
Have a quick 30 to 60 second elevator pitch in mind before every networking event you go to or just for day to day when meeting someone new. Time is precious at these events so you want to be able to get across the most important information clearly in the shortest amount of time whilst making it memorable. This could cover what you do, your area of expertise, where you work, who your clients are and your future goals. You should also try to give a sense of not only what you do professionally but what you’re like as a person so give them a sense of your personality making it more personable and relatable.
We all make the mistakes of talking about ourselves straight away because we all love talking about ourselves, but also bear in mind the person you’re talking to will also love to talk about themselves. Don’t just go on and on to the point where the other person loses interest, ask open ended questions to open up the conversation such as “What’s your story?” Listen and take a genuine interest in what the other person is telling you, at the same time, consider what you can offer them or what you have in common. One big no no at any event is to make it into a sales pitch, remember you’re here to build relationships, not to sell.
Know when to move on
Don’t just talk to one or two people all night; have genuine quality conversations with possible new acquaintances but make time to speak to at least a handful of people. On the flip side of the coin, don’t talk to so many people that you can’t remember who they are unless it’s a speed networking event. Remember, time is valuable for you and the person you’re speaking to, if you’re interested in working together then arrange for a meeting and move on. Also don’t discount people and not talk to them as you don’t think they’ll be of any benefit to you, it’s always better to have more friends than enemies, especially in the business world.
Next day, log contacts and reach out
Half of the business cards you receive are probably at the bottom of your drawer; you’ve probably forgotten who they are and why you wanted to connect. The next day after networking, schedule time in to follow up, add them on Linkedin, follow their business or send them a quick email to say that it was great to meet them. Write at the back of their business card at the event what they do and what you agreed to do for each other so you’ll remember the next day. Reach out regularly afterwards as well whether it be work anniversaries, forwarding interesting information to them or meeting for coffee. Remember relationships take time to build so don’t expect miracles overnight.
Next time you go to an event, take the mind set of “What can I offer?” instead of “What can I get?” This will change your attitude to be more generous rather than expecting something In return out of every conversation. Offer someone advice on a new project they have or put them in touch with an acquaintance, in the long term you may reap even more rewards rather than expecting instantaneous rewards.