Now, I’m guessing you wouldn’t expect to win the first marathon you ever entered, would you? However, if you train hard, apply yourself, invest the time and really work at it, subsequent marathons will eventually get easier, your finishing times will improve and the personal rewards will follow.
Well, the reality is that the same can be said for networking. Time and time again, I come across business owners who just don’t seem to get the importance of networking and the positive impact it can have on your business. The classic line I often hear is “I went to a breakfast meeting once, but didn’t get any business from it so didn’t go back again”.
When done effectively, networking should play a pivotal role in how you grow your connections and ultimately win new business. There are so many different networking groups that trying one and dismissing the whole thing as not for you is a bit like saying “I don’t like Chinese food” when in fact you may have had noodles once and not been overly keen!
Personally, I enjoy breakfast meetings – I tend to be a morning person, plus it leaves the rest of the day free to run my business. However, we’re not all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7am – not to mention early morning commitments like packed lunches, the school run and the time it takes to commute to the workplace. We all have different budgets for our networking efforts, as well as different levels of comfort zone. Networking is a long-term investment, not a quick fix and I hope my 5 top tips go some way to helping you when it comes to taking the networking plunge.
- Shop around. Most networking groups offer one or two free visits before they ask you to commit and become a full-time member of the group. Take advantage of this – you can usually instinctively tell if its the group for you during your free visits, and assess who the other members of the group are, potential synergy with them and work out your budget for membership (financial and time!). However, be careful not to become a “serial networker” or you could soon find you have a reputation that is far from flattering.
- Prepare well, before you walk through the door for the first time. Does the group have a website? A social media presence? Do you know anyone already in the group? Ask them what the format is – do you need to prepare a 60 second pitch? Is there a one-seat policy and if so, is your seat available? Is there a membership fee? If so, is it annual or a one-off? What are the expectations of members when it comes to bringing guests, referrals etc. Trust me, it’s better to find all these things out up front as part of your prep than join and not live up to the Ts&Cs of membership.
- Learn to listen. Believe it or not, its not all about you. A room full of seasoned networkers should make you feel welcome – you may even get “buddied up” with a member of the group for your first visit. Naturally, you will be asked questions but remember to ask them back and listen with interest at the responses. Open-ended questions (how, what, when) will make for better conversations than closed questions (do you, have you, are you). You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by just shutting up and listening to those around you!
- Think about your 60 second pitch. Plan ahead what you want to say to the room. Rehearse it if it makes you feel better. It may sound daft, but when you’re standing up and the clock is ticking, its easy to forget such fundamental pieces of information like your name and what your business is. If you need a crib sheet, have a crib sheet – there’s no shame in reading from a set of notes. Just don’t go over the 60 seconds – if everyone else in the room can stick to it, then so can you.
- Collect and connect. Offer your business card to the group members and take one of theirs in exchange. After the meeting, connect with them on LinkedIn, follow and mention them on Twitter, Like their Facebook page. Networking doesn’t end the moment you leave the room – follow up with anyone you were particularly interested in getting to know better. Request a 121 with them over coffee – this is where the real value of networking begins to take shape.
Hopefully, those five points will give you a head start when it comes to networking. Over and above everything else – be yourself and be professional. Once you’ve found a group and applied to become a member, give it time. Networking is a long-term investment, not an express lane to get new business.
For further networking opportunities visit:
Featured image by Mark Zaccaria Photography