Business networking offers an opportunity to develop an organisation in ways that otherwise wouldn’t occur. In common with all social skills, the ability to do this effectively has to be acquired, but those who do will reap the benefits.
Here are 13 top tips for getting the best out of networking:
1.Get out there. It’s no good having a cursory “toe in the water”, only mixing with a small, familiar group. Full immersion is necessary to develop a wide range of contacts that offer business to business, and business to customer, opportunities. Most beneficial transactions won’t occur with a single contact. It more commonly requires repeat contact to build confidence and a relationship. The same is true of business networking.
2.Don’t be a wallflower. Don’t assume people are going to be kind and come around to you because you haven’t the confidence to put yourself out there. Sitting in the shadows might be chic, but finding ways to get noticed is important. You will never build key contacts if you don’t speak to the right people, and the way to do that is to approach others and strike up a conversation.
3.Balance being amiable with being credible. It’s no good being popular if you can’t cut to the chase on key issues. The world is full of people who enjoy affiliation while offering no substance or direction. Business networking is ultimately an opportunity to conduct business in a relational context. Amiable people are popular, but the credible people get more sales, so balance must be achieved to network effectively.
4.Do what you say, say what you do. There is one core word to bear in mind: congruence. Your words and deeds must match. It is easy for business networking to get involved in all sorts of ritual behaviours that involve the clichés of “must get together”. Don’t say something in the moment of the encounter, only to conveniently forget it later when other priorities come in. People will quickly learn you’re not a person of your word, and this will damage your reputation.
5.Arrange to meet after the event. Get something in the diary that’s positive and that you have a mental commitment to, ensuring you are clear about what you need from that person. Avoid the ritual pleasantries of getting together for a coffee. Be clear about your intentions so that a clear agenda is set and the meeting is productive.
6.Offer information. Networking relies on the principle of giving to receive. It harnesses a basic human instinct of reciprocity that is at present in most people, but not all. Those businesses that are on a survival footing are likely to grab every negative information you might want to give like a starving squirrel after the last peanut on God’s earth! Even in these situations, when nothing comes back, be generous. It will be noticed by others.
7.Communicate clearly what it is you want. So many people turn up not knowing what they are looking for, and consequently their requests are vague and unspecific. You’re asking your audience at a networking event to buy in to what it is you need. They’re just not going to do that without the specifics and it is magical thinking to think otherwise.
8.Dress for the event. Even in these casual days, it is hard to over-dress for an event but easy to under-dress. Casualness can reflect an open, attractive aspect of how you do business, but it is not universal. Equally dressing to attract using one’s physicality excessively will create a distraction to the transactions you want. In all things think about coordination, this harmonisation of a visual aspect creates congruence.
9.Give out good information. If describing an opportunity, arrange an introduction, and make the effort to make it work well. Establish a standard in how you make referrals or pass information at networking events. Not only will you declare your own standards to others, you socialise others into your own expectations. You want decent referrals and information; not half-baked items that go nowhere.
10.Be patient. Networking not only takes a long time to establish the credibility factors mentioned above, but also to get the feel and understanding of many of the businesses around you and how they may or may not fit with yours. Trying to rush this will lead to frustration and possibly failure.
11.Think laterally. Just because it is not an obvious fit between you and another business does not mean you cannot be helpful to one another or generate insights and possibilities that hitherto would have not been countenanced. A lot of new business involves what might be described as “creative collages” when you bring together different aspects to synthesise something new.
12.Avoid being a networking junkie. Networking needs precision and detailed consideration about how you operate within it, otherwise it can be a scattergun approach where you turn up at events without focus and more out of concern missing a chance, however ill-defined. Networking can be a thief of time when not well managed, so pick your opportunities wisely.
13.Practice interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are not innate. They have to be fostered and maintained, honed and developed. Networking is not about being a social butterfly or a quiet wallflower. It is about being a consummate assessor and connector with the business environment as it presents in front of you at an event. It requires practice and regularity in approach.
Put into practice, the above tips should make a considerable difference to networking capabilities. Good networking!