If there’s one truly valuable skill in the world of business, it’s the ability to network.
Chances are, a large percentage of the people reading this met me through networking originally.
We may be in an age of social media marketing, but networking face-to-face is still an incredibly powerful tool … and you should still be using it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it still brings in leads, keep doing it.
People don’t just walk straight up to you and say, ‘Hey, let’s do business’ or ‘Here’s some fabulous information to take back with you.’
If only they did! Wouldn’t life be easy (and fantastic)?
No. Networking is a skill.
Make the right contacts and you could really boost your business by generating some new leads or by learning something that, in time, can propel your business.
If you feel a bit clueless when it comes to networking, allow me to discuss this valuable skill in a little more depth and suggest a few business networking tips and techniques that could land those crucial contacts.
The importance of networking
First thing’s first: a lot of networking events are free. Others you only pay for your breakfast.
If you’re not attending a networking event — or attending any events, in general — you’re missing out on a valuable, free opportunity to get your name out there.
That doesn’t mean ram your sales pitch down people’s throats when you get there, but spreading the word about your business is crucial, especially when you’ve just started out.
You see, networking is about building connections. You engage and interact with others. You ask questions. You listen. You find out things.
When you do happen to be talking about your business, you’re building and improving your presentation skills. You’re learning to convey your values, beliefs and experience in the most appealing way possible.
All this benefits your business.
How to raise your networking game
Networking done right will pay handsome dividends.
Networking done wrong can send out the wrong message about your business.
You don’t need me to tell you where that will hit you, do you?
At the bottom line, of course.
I don’t want that for you, so here are a few tips to improve your networking skills:
Choose the right events and venues
You shouldn’t just rock up to any event. You want to make productive use of your time, so choose groups or events that are relevant to your business.
Special interest groups, the Chamber of Commerce, industry-specific conferences and organisations… these are all places where you could meet potential clients, make useful business contacts, get the latest news or come across other information that may help your business down the line.
Note that it’s important to keep an open mind. Be clear about the people you should be talking to or targeting, but don’t discount anyone whose line of business may seem irrelevant. You don’t know what you might learn or when they might come in handy as a connection.
Arrive on time
You’re not going to a party, so there’s no special points for being ‘fashionably late’.
It may be quiet when you arrive.
Perfect. The other attendees won’t have formed groups yet.
Strike while the iron’s hot and start speaking to someone who’s by themselves. They could become a crucial contact and, as they go about their own networking, you may not get the chance to speak to them later.
Smile and be approachable
Business is serious, but who says you shouldn’t enjoy it, too?
Relax. Smile when you chat to people. You don’t have to walk about with a smile permanently etched into your face, but a smile is part of the engagement.
It’s about being personable and approachable. Would you want to chat to someone standing across the room and looking poker-faced?
Would you consider doing business with them potentially?
Maybe, but I’m guessing your instinctive response is ‘No.’
Don’t be that person.
Drop the sales pitch
This is perhaps the biggest rule of networking: don’t just pitch your business all the time.
If you’re extolling the virtues of your own business at every (half) opportunity, you’re not really connecting with someone: you’re just bludgeoning them with a sales pitch. Ouch!
Have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready in your head so that if someone does ask you about your business, you can give them a quick, elegant snapshot of your business and what you can do for them. Spare the pitch if the circumstances don’t invite it.
Connect with people. Be engaging. Show interest in others. Listen and learn from them. Enjoy their company and be good company yourself so that people want to talk to you and be around you.
This is how you start to build the business relationship.
Make networking your superpower
There’s an art to networking, just like everything else in business.
People already know you’re there to promote yourself (or at least, they’ll suspect you are), so you don’t have to slide in with a pitch at every opportunity.
There’s nothing wrong with speaking passionately about what you do, but focus on meeting the right people and listening to what they have to say.
Relax and get to know them.
Connect with them.
Watch them start to take interest in your business.
That’s the power of networking — and it’s in your hands.
Make it your superpower.