Networking events for business people are on the up. In this digital ‘PC Pilot’ age, it is still imperative to get out and meet people, speak to humans.
For some, like small and one person businesses, networking also acts as place to share and learn and for those loner start-ups, a chance to actually talk to someone other than a customer.
As a self-confessed networking tart, I have spent a lot of time attending networking events across Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and beyond, heroically consuming endless English Breakfasts, all in a good cause of course!
Picking the right ones for you and for your business is the hardest part. From The Boardroom Network to BNI to Chambers to IOD and all the other independent ones dotted around, you really could go to one a day, or more. I know some who do. Invite to the opening of an envelope anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
I am a Networking evangelist it is true to say. I know ‘networking works’. If it doesn’t, you are likely at the wrong one or you haven’t given it long enough or you are doing something wrong.
I put my hand up first to having forgotten my business cards. 100 lines for me. I have also woken up at daft o’clock and simply not been in the mood. Fake a smile, or just call ahead and give your apologies.
For 95% of events, I do enjoy it, get a lot from it personally and will keep going back time and again, but perhaps one less sausage or two is required?!
So, a few pointers for those thinking of networking or at a loss to why it’s not working.
- Pick the right event – Most networking events or their organisers have a website. Check here to see who goes. The people, their business. If the people or their businesses are not right for you. Don’t go.
- Take business cards (note to self, see above!).
- Don’t be shy. This is the main issue that stops people going as they simply can’t bring themselves to talk to someone. Get someone to introduce you. Better Networks will get someone to chaperone ‘newbies’.
- Get your elevator pitch (1 minute business summary) written, honed and put to memory, as in any facilitated networking this is your chance to tell people how you can help.
- Remember that you are there to meet people, learn about them. It’s not all about you. Show interest in others and what they do. Be open to let them share their business, their work issues etc.
- Don’t hard sell! Educate, and start building the ‘Know/Like/Trust.
- Look for chances to speak to the room. Most events have at least one speaker and/or a key note. If you struggle with Public Speaking get some training. Perhaps from Toastmasters – http://www.toastmasters.org
- Take a pop-up banner. If you are speaking to the room, most let you display them. If not, then ask.
- Follow up – Take the cards back to the office and look people up on Linked-In. Look at their websites and get in touch. Don’t get too uptight too if people pitch to you. People are more likely to help people who help them make connections.
- And don’t rush off! Most events last 2 hours. Leave yourself at least 15 minutes at the end to catch up with those who heard you speak but didn’t get the chance to chat. This might even be from those on your table. More importantly, if you spoke to the entire room and then leave straight away, how will you know if anyone was interested (polite applause and nodding is no guarantee!).
Having got up at 05:15 this morning to attend The Boardroom Network in Bournemouth, the key lead I picked up was after the main event ended and 85% of the people had left. I try where I can to get to events early and leave late. It is here I often pick up leads or have key one-to-one conversations with new or established contacts. It was the same when I was an 8 call a day Sales Rep. I often picked up orders and met with key people (selling to retail) just after they opened and just before they closed.
In the quiet before the buzz starts and at the end when the chat and noise has stilled, there is often time for meetings and discussions.
When it comes to whether the argument of does networking works, give it time, give yourself time and don’t rush off.