A while ago I wrote a short guest post on networking for another blog but I had a lot more ideas that I wanted to fit in. Now I’m full-time with Libro, I can hopefully go to more networking events, as they are a good way to meet new people, discuss new ideas and, well, get out of the house! And I’ve had actual, qualified success in making money from business I’ve gained, not from someone I met at a networking event, but from someone they met afterwards. So I highly recommend popping a bit of networking into your marketing and social mix, and here are my top tips for networking …
Networking can be a scary and daunting idea. We all know we need to do it … but how, where and why do we do it, and what can we get out of it, and bring to it? Here are 10 handy hints for making networking work for you, all tested by me, myself – and I certainly didn’t think I was a natural networker when I started out! Here are my top tips for successful networking.
Do be scared … but realise everyone else is too!
Walking into a room full of people you don’t know is daunting to all but the most extrovert of people. The key to conquering this fear is knowing that 90% of the people around you, even people who have been to the event before, are at least a little apprehensive, too. So, first of all, be understanding if people seem a bit aggressive or over-wordy or, indeed silent. Maybe it’s just how they are when they’re nervous. And secondly, let yourself off the hook if you do the same. Take a deep calming breath, look around you calmly, and chat to someone. Ask them about themselves – that old one, but it does really work.
Dress for success
You don’t always need to be all suited and booted, but it’s worth finding out from the event organiser what kind of outfits people normally turn up in (of course, “what you usually wear to work” isn’t always suitable if you normally work from a home office … ). Most of us feel more comfortable when we fit in with the crowd, and knowing how to pitch your outfit is part of that. It goes without saying – doesn’t it? that you should be ironed and mud-free and your hair shouldn’t be standing on end unless it’s supposed to.
Try before you buy
There’s a huge variety of networking events and organisations out there. Some of them charge a fee to be a member of their club. That’s fine – but most of them will let you try out a meeting or two before you commit to that expensive membership. Take advantage of this, try a few different local meetings before you join up, and you’ll know you’ve spent your money in the right place.
The huge range of networking events available means that there’s one – or more – to suit everyone. From a national organisation to a hyperlocal event, from market sector-themed meetings to Women in Business, try out a few and see what you like – and try to visit a range of different ones every month. Of course, there are also online networking groups; forums, LinkedIn groups, etc. Give those a go, by all means, but do try and get out and about – especially if you work alone all day! If you’re chatting to someone at a networking event and you seem to get on and have similar views, ask them which other meetings they go to. Other ways to find out more include social networks, including meetup.com, Facebook and Twitter, notices in your local library, and articles in business magazines. People are usually fine to tell you about the other ones they go to and might even arrange to meet up with you first to take the edge off that first entrance into the room.
I recently joined my local High Street Business Association. I’ve got a small ad on their website, a listing in their directory and I’ve already been to a breakfast meeting at a local café. You’ve always got something to talk about when you’re all local! And you might be able to help your local community too, with fund-raising events, Business Enterprise Zones and mentoring schemes.
Keep at it
Most networking events happen regularly and some take a while to work your way in to. Some might have different attendees every time, some might have lots of familiar faces every month, and some might have a mix of the two. I’d suggest that you need a little time to get used to the particular group and how it works – plus repeat appearances will keep you in people’s minds.
Don’t expect to make direct sales: do expect to get recommendations
You may well not sell your services to the people you meet at a networking event. Sometimes you might even meet a rival business who – gasp – does the same as you! Just because you’re not going to get a sale doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to these people. You can talk about general business matters, get all sorts of tips and hints … and you don’t know who they know … I’ve won a few clients now through people I’ve met at networking events. One lady recommended me to a contact on Twitter, after I’d met her at a Social Media Café. It’s always worth actually asking people to think of you if they come across anyone who needs whatever it is you do.
Do team up with “rivals”
I have a small network of other editors who I can rely on to pass work on to if I’ve got too much to do. Similarly, they pass work to me or recommend me if one of their clients comes to them with something in which I specialise. So if you meet someone who’s in a similar line of business to you, don’t bristle and walk away, but think how you can benefit one another.
Don’t just think about what you can get out of these events. If you meet enough different people, chances are that you’ll meet someone and realise you know just the person that can help them. If they’re both at the event, take the time to introduce them. They’ll both thank you for it – and remember you. At a recent networking event, a local film-maker I’ve known for a while described me (in front of a group of other people) as an “oracle” and made sure everyone knew how I was always introducing him to interesting and useful people. Great word of mouth marketing!
You will undoubtedly come back from networking events with a fistful of business cards. Don’t just shove them in your filing cabinet, your pocket, or your handbag (or man bag!). Get them all out when you get back home, and go through them. Email everyone you met, even if you don’t think you’ll get a direct sale from them, to say that you enjoyed meeting them, and establish that contact. You never know when one of you might come in useful to the other one. My friend and fellow small business owner Alison Mead of Silicon Bullet has just published some excellent tips to use at this stage: read her blog post here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and that they prove to be useful to you. Do give networking a go – more than one go, in fact, so you can get used to how it all works. In no time, you’ll be striding confidently in to the room, greeting familiar faces, making other people feel comfortable, and making useful contacts and/or helping other people.