I have lost count of the number of networking meetings I have attended since founding my business in March; the number must be approaching 40. But in that time my network of business contacts has grown exponentially.
To put this in LinkedIn terms, I had around 150 contacts before I started networking; as of September 2018 I have 476 contacts. Therefore my network has grown in excess of 300% in just over 7 months. I would estimate that I have actually met 90% of these people and almost all of them have been through networking meetings.
So what do these figures actually mean? After all, networking can be both time-consuming and expensive, and therefore a return on investment is vital.
Can I honestly say that I have received business from every networking meeting I have attended? Of course not; time, dedication, patience and persistence is required to acquire business. However, I can say that I have learnt something valuable from every single meeting, and spoken to interesting, helpful people who have become valuable contacts.
Networking has connected me with the right people to help me on my journey, and I have won much of my business by delivering my core business message time and time again. Networking works, but how can you ensure you are maximising your opportunities?
How has Networking Worked for Me? What Have I Learnt so far?
As someone who barely understood the meaning of the word networking at the beginning of the year, I quickly came to understand just how valuable successful networking is.
Here are 10 things that I have learnt so far:
Be Authentic - Don’t try too hard - be yourself. Networking meetings are usually designed to facilitate relaxed conversations. The end goal for everyone in the room is to increase their sales, but you will reap rewards in the long-term by building genuine relationships with people. So be yourself: authenticity builds trust; trust builds relationships.
Prepare - If possible, find out who else will be in the room prior to the meeting. This will help to ensure you speak to the people you want to, and also gives you the chance to do some background research. If the meeting involves ‘pitching’ your business to the group, it is worth preparing your message in advance, in order to get the most out of your allotted slot. You need to deliver a punchy, engaging pitch that conveys its message clearly and effectively.
Move Around the Room - It can be tricky to move around the room as quickly as you would like to at networking meetings, especially if there are people in the room you already know. And although it can be difficult breaking off from a conversation, you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity. Everyone is in the same boat, so it is perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself at the right moment - a future 1-2-1 can always be arranged!
Monitor Your Body Language - Keep your arms open (never folded) and move around the room confidently. Smile and make eye-contact. People respond well to positive body language!
Listen Actively - Avoid being distracted whilst having a conversation, and listen carefully to what the other person has to say. Listen actively by showing genuine interest - ask questions and maintain eye contact.
Never Disregard Anyone - It is important to avoid making assumptions about people. Be open to having a conversation with anyone in the room; every person has their own circles of contacts, and valuable introductions can easily be attained. Useful knowledge, experience and expertise can come from seemingly unlikely places.
Embrace Your Competition - This may seem counter-intuitive, but having a chat with your competitors can be mutually beneficial if it is approached in the right manner. There’s usually enough business to go around; building bridges is the way forward!
Be Helpful - Can you solve a problem for someone through an introduction to one of your contacts? Or is there someone in your network who could benefit from their services? Successful networkers help others and reap the rewards of doing so in the long run.
Say Yes! - Never decline a 1-2-1; if someone wants to have a conversation with you, take up the opportunity. Conversations can lead to exciting opportunities. Similarly, be open to attending new networking meetings; not every meeting will suit you, but most groups welcome visitors, and this is a great way of expanding your network. Don’t miss out!
Follow Up - Within one day of the meeting, find your newly-made contacts on LinkedIn, (or send an email). Send a personalised message when connecting, and follow up over the next days where necessary.
I have found that the above steps work for me, but everyone has their own individual style when networking. Find a meeting that suits you, but step outside your comfort zone to grow your list of contacts. Personally, I try to get to meetings early and stay as long as I am able to in order to maximise opportunities. However, flexibility is important too!
Above all, enjoy yourself when networking; enjoy learning about other people, and enjoy sharing your passion for your work! Networking shouldn’t feel like a chore; if it does, it may not be the right group for you.
So have fun, build relationships and enjoy the food and drink on offer!