Networking -Do you love it or hate it? Or does it depend on your mood?
Lots of people have a horror of being trapped in the corner by someone giving them a hard sell and waving a business card, trying to close a sale. Here are a few tips to make it a little easier for you.
Arrive early so that groups are not yet formed when you get there. It is easier if people join you than having to break into a group. Remember everyone in the room either feels the same as you do, or did so when they began networking. The others in the group will be sympathetic to a new member and will normally welcome you into their conversation. So just look around the room and select an open group.
Let me explain what I mean by an open group.
In a successful, established group there will often be people having a serious “catch up” on some work they are doing together. They will be facing each other and concentrating hard on what they are discussing. This is a “closed two”, and networking etiquette is that you do not interrupt. Once they have completed their “catch up” in a few minutes, they will rejoin the networking group.
So look for a small group who have left their circle open. Approach with a friendly smile, wait for a gap in the conversation, make eye contact and offer a handshake to one of the group. Experienced networkers will seamlessly absorb and welcome you into the group, and should introduce you to others. Tell them this is your first time here and you would like to meet people who ……..Someone will usually help you.
Do not launch into a hard sell. Ask people about their business before you try to tell them about yours. Look for an opportunity to be helpful, one good turn will earn another.
The thing to remember is that networking should be one of a series of meetings, where you gradually gain mutual trust, and sometimes arrange to meet to follow up if you can both see mutually beneficial opportunities.
A good analogy to keep in mind is “Farming not hunting “. This is not a quick kill, but a sowing of seeds that can grow naturally and in their own time, and be harvested later when the time is right.
Lots of business sectors have their own network—most professionals such as lawyers and accountants have association meetings and continual professional development events.
These sector specific networks are great for sharing ideas and contacts, exchanging industry knowledge and even gossip. Some people find it strange that you might network with competitors but often you might find openings for setting up collaborative projects. Together you are stronger than separately. Your skills may complement each other rather than compete head on. Often you can pass business to each other, support each other in projects too large for you individually, and pool specialist equipment or personnel.
Conversely if you are the only person in a group with your skill set, then that can bring you business too. So consider joining several different groups.
There are different styles of networking-from referral guaranteed formal membership groups to informal drop in events. There are groups that meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks. Some are free, some are pay as you go, and others ask you to formally take a year’s membership.
Try a few and find the format that suits you and your business. As long as you are doing it correctly, you should eventually get out proportionately at least what you put in.
But you must think of it as a long game, there is no immediate win, but a “getting to know” people, and building trust.
People do business with people, but not until they know them, and maybe asked other mutual friends about them. View it as a way of growing contacts.
Actively look for opportunities to help people or connect two people or companies you think could work well together. This establishes you as a person of influence.
Also if you are well connected, you become the “go-to” person for recommendations and referrals and this adds to your stature in the business community. And there are loads of people out there who owe you a favour!
These days you can develop your relationship on line and build up knowledge of each other’s business, and trust in each other that way. Discover mutual friends and acquaintances.
Building a successful business necessitates building strong relationships. Networking is a very reliable way of finding good companies to work with. There is no hiding place for shoddy working in a networking group- word gets around quickly and the unreliable companies will not get business, and soon drop out of sight.
On the other hand those who do good work go from strength to strength, and a community will form that trusts and supports each other, and the group prosper together.