There is a small number of people who actually enjoy business networking. Most of us find it daunting and would rather skip it, if possible. The pressure of trying to build a connection with so many different individuals from so many different backgrounds, having to perfect your elevator pitch, trying to sell your business without coming across too salesy, it’s all a bit much.
And let’s face it, the whole purpose is to exchange contacts, who in turn will hopefully generate lucrative leads, so why does everyone make it sound so complicated?
There are generally four main types of people who attend networking events:
- The pros. These are the people who know the ins and outs of networking and work it well. They are generally the loudest and they interact the most. What they do well? They speak to everyone and make sure that everyone gets a piece of them (they are difficult to forget) but if they don’t see the value you or your assumed contacts can bring to their business, they move on. Cruel, huh? But this is what makes them in most cases more successful than others: their ability to filter their interactions and focus on the most profitable ones.
- The delegates. They don’t really want to be there but they’re happy to get out of the office and enjoy the freebies (yes, there are usually free drinks or even food). They will speak to a sufficient number of people and collect enough cards so that they can go to their boss the day after and show proof of their successful outing.
- The newbies. They are excited to be there and in most cases overdo it. They are likely to have just started their business or working as a freelancer and are usually encouraged to attend by one of the organisers, so they are sold this idealistic image of the benefits of networking. They will prepare thoroughly, wear their ‘Sunday best’ and will usually be lovely to talk to.
- The pushy. Quite self-explanatory but generally, these are the people everyone avoids one hour into the event. They are relentless when it comes to presenting their business, they pitch to everything that moves with little to no interest in creating a two-way conversation. You will often see a newbie falling into their trap and trying to catch anyone’s eye in the hope that they will come to their rescue.
The secret to successful networking is finding your own approach. Don’t be like everyone else. Relax. Be memorable. Be insightful. Getting to know people is fun! And not only that, but it also helps you reflect on your own business. Think about the feedback you get, the reactions to your pitch, analyse how people respond to your ideas and use this information to improve your business. It’s like having your own focus group (how good is that?).
There are a few types of events so try to experiment with each and see which ones suit you best, be it breakfast meetings, evening events or more casual gatherings.
A few good standard practices when it comes to networking:
- Listen to what your fellow networkers have to say, either in response to your business or about what they do. It will come in handy.
- Be prepared. Anticipate what type of people you might meet and have some materials ready, maybe not full brochures but definitely business cards at least.
- Most of these events are formal, so make sure you follow the dress code. Don’t overdo it though, it’s much more important to be comfortable.
- Next day, reach out to the people you met. Call, email, connect on LinkedIn or even arrange a meeting if you feel that you need their services asap or they need yours.
- Build meaningful relationships. Don’t just reach out. Don’t be another ‘Hi, we met at the event yesterday, buy from me and I’ll give you a discount’. Show them that you can bring value to their business and they to yours.
All in all, networking really isn’t that much of a chore and it’s better to do it than not do it. Whether something profitable comes out of it is an added bonus.