Networking is a useful way of getting your brand known, and it can be a good source of business. Not every new connection will yield instant results, so instead look at it as a way of building a network of reliable suppliers and potential customers. So, you know why you should network, but what about the how?
Do decide what you need and think about how you’ll achieve it
What are you hoping to get from networking? What’s your biggest need, or do you need different things from particular people?
This could be anything from the listening ear of people in the same boat, to a potential business partner or distributor. It’s okay to have more than one goal! Focus your efforts and conversations on your goals—and be specific. Be open about the sort of kind of opportunities you’re looking for.
Do prepare and memorise an informal elevator pitch
Someone will inevitably ask, “So what do you do?” Your answer won’t be the formal pitch that you might prepare for a potential investor, but a concise explanation of your business is essential. Describe who you work with, who you’re looking to work with, and what products or services you offer.
Do listen at least as much as you talk
Keep your goals and needs in mind, but not to the exclusion of all else. Listening during networking can reveal potential opportunities that might otherwise not come up in conversation, or as an answer to a question.
Networking is as much about listening to others and offering help as it is about self-promotion. It’s also a good way to foster goodwill! Ask open-ended questions which give others the chance to expand beyond yes and no answers.
Do remember (and record) contact names and details
Make sure you get the names of people you talk to, and use them in conversation. Take their business card. Use this to record what you talked about, or failing that, make notes after the event. We all think we’ll remember a name or conversation, until life happens and two days later we realise we haven’t got a clue!
Do be memorable and accessible
Give out your business card to anyone who asks, and everyone you chat to. Make sure your email, website, logo, and links for social media and LinkedIn are on your cards. If your URL (website address) isn’t memorable, now might be the time to consider changing it. You can set up a redirect on your old site.
Do nurture your networking relationships
Follow up on contacts that you make, and pass on opportunities that you hear of that may be of use to them. Likewise, if a contact gets in touch, respond warmly and use your notebook to make sure you remember the finer details.
Making a specific suggestion will ensure things actually happen, rather than the more vague ‘we must meet up sometime’. Invite them to view your business or ask to take a tour around theirs.
Do assess your networking progress
Like any other business process, your networking will benefit from an assessment now and then. Have you achieved what you wanted and made useful contacts?
Be discriminating. Focus on or find those events most useful for you and your business, and let others fall by the wayside (once you’ve given them a fair trial, of course. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your network won’t be built in a month).
Don’t pressure people or give them the hard sell
Treat networking like you (hopefully) do social media. Remember that you’re there to interact, inform and learn—not to push your products, promotions or presence down other people’s throats!
Forge friendly relationships so that even if contacts have no immediate use for your services, they’ll happily recommend you to acquaintances who do.
Don’t feel pressured to maintain relationships with those who aren’t a good fit—for you or your business
While it’s flattering when people want to work with you, especially if they’re got a bigger, thriving business, don’t say yes if you’re not happy about it. You may not be comfortable with their business model or ethics, or like the terms of their proposal. Sometimes, you just won’t relate to them well on a personal level—and that can make for a rocky business relationship.
Something along the lines of, “Thanks. It’s a great offer, but not exactly what I’m looking for right now” is all you need to say—firmly, but with a polite smile.
Don’t turn off your ‘networking head. Ever.
Networking opportunities are all around you. They don’t only occur at networking or business events, so keep your ears open and take the time to talk (and listen!) to everyone you meet. The random person on the beach whose dog just gatecrashed your picnic? They could run the niche logistics company that solves your distribution woes.
Do you have a good networking story? A great deal struck in a queue at Tesco? Let us know!