Networking, done well, is a powertool for any entrepreneur. It helps us expand our reach – to potential customers and to people who might be able to put us in touch with them. It’s also a great way of expanding the resources available to us – both for us in our business and for our clients when they need something outside our area of expertise. But how many times have you heard people complain about it? The most common grumble I hear is that it’s a waste of time, we’re not getting enough out of it compared with what we put in.
Now, we are right to worry about how we spend our time – it’s a valuable resource and we only have a finite amount of it. How we choose to spend it should be a key decision every day. But how many of us actually do that? Or do we just keep doing what we do because it’s become our routine, without really thinking about why? It is our responsibility to make sure that the networking we do is valuable to us.
It’s important to be purposeful when networking. Networking events that aren’t likely to be useful for you aren’t worth attending. This sounds really obvious, but how many of us are guilty (if we’re really honest with ourselves) of being members of networks without truly evaluating their value to us? Or attending events without carefully weighing up the (time) cost of being there versus doing something else instead?
Having chosen the right event to attend, have a goal for being there. It might be to meet a certain number of new people. It might be to get to know a particular person better. It might be to learn about a particular industry sector. There’s no right or wrong answer, but whatever it is, be purposeful. Don’t just leave it to chance.
Go prepared. We all know we should prepare for networking events – we pack our business cards, our calendar, a pen, a notebook, etc etc. But do we take the time to think about how we prepare ourselves? Both what we say about ourselves, and also what we want to find out about other people.
Prepare to be genuinely curious about the people you meet. Think about the questions you want to ask. Dig beyond the initial introduction to make sure you really understand what they do, how they do it, who they work with, and how they operate. Knowing these things will not only make it easier for you to refer them, it will also help to identify whether they may be a good referral source for you.
A word of warning, however, it’s supposed to be conversation – not an interrogation!! Give them space to breathe occasionally…
Remember to talk about yourself as well. There is no point networking like mad, meeting lots of new people, finding out a whole load of useful and interesting information about them if you don’t also tell them who you are or what you do, what you can offer etc. It has to be a two-way street. So time spent preparing how you’ll introduce yourself, how you’ll describe your business, what kind of customer you’re looking for and other things that help them understand you and your business, will be a good investment.
Don’t make the mistake that many people do – this is not a sales pitch. It’s simply telling someone else about you – the kind of things you like to hear about other people. Make sure you help them be as informed about you as you want to be about them.
Again, and I know this is really obvious, but make sure you get contact details from the people you meet and want to keep in touch with. Unless you have an exceptionally good memory, you might want to take some notes as soon after meeting people as possible – nothing too detailed, just memory joggers that will help you remember the person more clearly after the event – things they do, services they’re looking for, clients they like working with etc.
Finally, and this is perhaps the cardinal rule – always, always follow up. If you promise to do something, send something, call – do it. And if you’ve liked talking to someone, even if you haven’t agreed to follow up, why not contact them anyway to say you enjoyed meeting them. What a great message to get after a networking event!