Its important that you know how to make the most of networking opportunities. If you've just received an invitation to attend an event where there'll be a lot of networking going on, here are some useful tips that can help you get much greater and longer lasting business value from it. Most people recognise that in business it's not just about what you know - it's who you know.
Anyone who's run a business knows it can be lonely at the top. Continually grappling with issues that impact the future of your team members and company is neither easy nor glamorous. However, help is available.
Networking may not offer structured programmes, but the contacts you develop may connect you with business peers facing similar challenges who can give you the chance to test your ideas and resolve issues.
There are numerous options for experiencing the benefits of belonging to interest groups, roundtable think tanks or industry associations.
By having a commitment to constantly improving your network of contacts you can expect benefits such as gaining access to an informal “board” of advisers offering years of business experience, developing valuable business relationships, exchanging your management skills and ideas with peers and picking up hints on avoiding business roadblocks and common mistakes.
The importance of networking and how it is put into effect depends somewhat on whether you operate in the business-to-business sector compared to the business-to-consumer arena.
In business-to-business, networking is more likely to lead directly to sales and positive word-of-mouth promotion. If you are a marketing consultant networking among small business people who are all potential clients, every contact represents potential new business.
In the business-to-consumer sector, networking is more important for support and guidance regarding business issues. A local gym owner networking within his local Chamber of Commerce may pick up an occasional new member, but is more likely to find his networking valuable for gaining insights into such things as local government business policies or local business conditions.
Guidelines for effective networking include the following:
Have a genuine liking for people
Good networkers are normally people who like reaching out to other people. It is important to have an interest in others and be willing to learn about their business, their industry and the challenges they face.
Get to know the organisers
Every networking event has been organised by somebody who knows the attendees and their backgrounds. Find out who it is and speak to them before the event. They can identify the movers and shakers in the crowd and help you meet them.
Get into groups that make up your target market
If you are a marketing consultant, getting involved in a local child care group will probably not be of great value, whereas joining a local branch of Rotary where the members are all traders and managers may be very useful. The groups you choose to be in (keeping in mind that most business owners or managers can't afford the time to be in more than two or three groups) need to be lively, vibrant and relevant to you.
Contribute to these groups in practical ways
If you are in a group solely for what you can get out of it, it will become obvious and unappealing to other members. You need to contribute in some way, show that you can get things done efficiently and become an active member of the group. After that, you just have to let it happen. Worthwhile networking will take place in its own time.
Go out of your way to help
When you are talking with individuals, and the occasion arises, offer to help. On a particular occasion, the conversation may turn to problems with printing services. If you happen to know a local printer who gives you outstanding service, offer to provide his contact details. It's a small act on your part, but it can mean much to someone else.
Look for groups within groups
Most networking events have their groups, people who know each other and meet regularly at these gatherings. It may seem hard to break into one of these groups but think of the advantages - meet one and you've met them all! If you know that someones a member of one of these groups you can have an informal chat and ask them to provide an introduction to the other members.
Have something to say
Be ready with something to say when you're introduced to someone new. They'll want to know a bit about your business and how its performing. Prepare a brief elevator speech about 30 seconds long, which presents your details and is both informative and interesting. Rehearse it so it sounds natural when you deliver it.
Show interest in others
If you're talking with a potential customer, try and keep the conversation on them and gather information you can use after the event. Show interest in them and offer to send them some information about your business. Even if they're not immediately interested they'll usually accept out of politeness.Don't forget your business cardsOne of the most important networking tools is the business card. You literally cant afford to be without one at these events, so come prepared with a quantity of well designed cards. For instance, have them printed in a second language if you'll be meeting people who speak a different language. You might want to have some cards printed especially for the event with more details about your products or services than your standard card.
Don't monopolise anyones time. After all, they didn't attend just to meet you. Get to know them and then move on. If you've got a small glass of juice then it's time to move on when you have finished it, if not before.
Do your best to be helpful
One thing that you can always do at networking functions is to help someone find what they're looking for. They might say they're looking for a supplier of office furnishings or a new source of plumbing products. If you can help them make a connection you'll be favourably remembered.
Look for the loners
Not everyone's gregarious and outgoing and there will always be people at networking events who look lost. Its a good chance for you to introduce yourself and see if they might want to have a conversation. You can be doubly supportive and introduce them to others you know in the room. Be enthusiastic and you'll be seen as someone who gets things done.
You meet a lot of people at networking events and its sometimes hard a week later to remember exactly what was said to any particular person. Collect business cards from everyone you meet and if you've made a commitment to do something after the event, make a note on that persons business card as soon as your conversations over. Never rely on memory alone, and be sure to follow up within a couple of days before the lead gets stale or you've been forgotten.
Susan RoAne, who writes books on networking, including How To Work A Room and The Secrets Of Savvy Networking, estimates that up to seventy percent of the population are situationally shy when it comes to networking events. Attending an event with strangers is our number one most uncomfortable situation (public speaking is number two). Just remember that the other networkers are there to meet you, even if you're new and they've been doing it for years. These events are your opportunity to meet people who can help you in your business, so don't hold back just because you don't know anybody. Be prepared and you'll enjoy yourself as well as increasing business revenue. When you meet someone whom you want to develop a relationship with for the first time, follow up soon afterwards. Meet for a coffee or forward a relevant newspaper article that may interest them. Similarly, if you offer to provide information, be sure to follow up. Being reliable and becoming known as reliable is an essential ingredient when developing a network.