Anyone who knows me might be surprised to hear me admit that I can find networking daunting at times. There aren’t many people who can claim to never having felt a tingle (however small) of butterflies when walking into a room full of people you’ve never met before. And talking to them.
There are several fears that go through your mind when entering a networking event – from the introvert’s fear of having to talk to people, to the practicalities of how to manoeuvre your way into an existing group of people who seem to be having a fabulous conversation. Or the training session or conference filled with people who are all strangers requiring your interaction for the next few hours or days. Please do remember that we’ve all been the new person in the room, and we all know how it feels.
Hopefully reading the following 10 networking tips will give you the boost you need…
No. 1 Be Yourself
Networking can be daunting sometimes - what to wear, who to approach, what to say, how to find out if someone is a potential client, how to move from one person or group to the next without offending anyone. My most important tip is not to try to be the person you think others want to meet. Be genuine and the rest will follow! It’s so much easier to be yourself, wear what you feel comfortable in, don’t try to be someone you’re not, and you’ll be able to relax in conversation much more quickly.
No. 2 Be Confident
Networking can be similar to a job interview in that nerves can often replace common sense. Be confident that you know your business, your products and your services better than anyone else, anywhere. If you’re worried that when someone asks you a question you won’t be able to answer it – stop stressing! You know your products and services inside out. If you do get stumped by a question, you can always offer to follow up with someone outside the group – it gives you an easy opportunity to get their business card and connect with them.
No. 3 Take Notes
Even if you find networking easy, you still have to remember people’s names, faces, business names, locations, products and/or services, and any bits of info they are excited to share with you. Don’t try to remember it all! Take notes either during your conversation or after you’ve talked to them. Ask for a business card and add a couple of notes to it. Then, when you get home and transfer your contacts onto whatever system you use, you can bring them to mind more easily and, with practice, when you see them again you’ll be able to talk to them with ease.
No. 4 Ask Questions and Listen
Ask questions and listen! It’s so frustrating to talk to someone and see that all they’re interested in is their opportunity to talk about themselves! It creates a much better impression if you are actually interested in what someone has to say and ask pertinent questions based on what they have said shows that you have really listened to them. Try not to have your next sentence ready when someone is talking, but to positively react to what they’re saying. It makes such a world of difference.
No. 5 Talk to Everyone
It can be a real challenge when you’re networking to move out of your comfort zone and leave friends you’ve made or a group you’re comfortable talking to. But try to talk to as many people as possible, even give yourself a target of 2-5 new people per meeting, and to get around everyone over the course of several meetings. Listen. Ask questions. Share stories. Remember, practice makes perfect.
No. 6 Connect
Don’t forget that networking is about connecting with people. Even if it’s not someone you think may be a future customer of yours, make a concerted effort to connect with everyone you talk to, exchange business cards, connect on as many social media platforms as are appropriate. Engage with their social media content, and they will do the same with yours. The greater the engagement, the greater your business reach, and the greater the opportunity for potential customers to find out about your fabulous products and/or services.
No. 7 Keep in Touch
Once you’ve established a connection with someone, make sure you build on it. Interact with them on social platforms, email them, meet up for a cuppa, collaborate with them, have a skills swap. It’s so important to have a network of people in a similar position to you, who understand where you’re coming from, and who you can support and bounce ideas around with, and vice versa.
No. 8 Refer
Referrals are so important to all businesses and are the lifeblood of small businesses. It’s really good practice as an extension to attending networking events, to try to refer other small businesses whenever possible. As well as being polite, it also shows people that you have a good business network and can provide others with new customers.
No. 9 Be selective in your pitch
Don’t feel that you have to sell every product or service in your arsenal to every person you talk to. Listen, ask questions, and talk about the product or service that best suits them. It sharpens you listening skills, your analytical skills, and your selling skills too, so win-win.
No. 10 Networking Groups – Try before you buy
There are tonnes of them out there, and they’re not all the perfect fit for you. It’s a fab idea to try a wide range of them before you commit to becoming a member (if that’s one of their pre-requisites). Everyone has different criteria they want a group to meet to fit in with their business needs, whether that be a breakfast meeting, an informal group, a regimented meeting, a referrals only, or an evening do - it’s important that you find which one you feel is your perfect fit. Invest in a bit of time attending as many as you can to see which one is the right one for you and your business. If it’s a networking group worth your continued attendance, then it will be a welcoming one, and any group there will be more than happy for you to join in their discussion.
And last but most importantly, No. 11 Smile
Even if you’re dreading each event you attend, a smile can hide a plethora of nerves and present the best of you before you even speak. You’ll immediately feel more relaxed and positive, and even the biggest introvert can listen to someone else speak with a smile, listening to what they have to say, asking relevant questions, and exchanging business cards.
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