Networking is here, it is becoming more popular, and the pressure to join in is becoming more intense.
“But I hate networking, every time I have been to a session I have walked around whilst others have indulged in meaningful conversation. Mingling is not my forte”. Sound familiar?
So, how do we go about making it work for you?
First, there are a number of different types of networking sessions.
1.. There are the Breakfast type of session (like BNI and BRX). These tend to attract micro businesses, often business to consumer. So the mechanic, the plumber, the IFA and the fitness instructor tend to frequent these. There is pressure to make yourself known, and there is also an expectation of passing on business opportunity to others in the room. They are also very regular, often weekly. A menial fee covers the breakfast and there can be a joining fee.
2.. Business Clubs that have an educational and joint learning function are more abundant than ever before, and often run by a consultant. Often a fee is involved.
3.. Then there are the events that cross sectors, but generally have a theme. For example, free export events, and innovation events. Often presenters will be lined up to discuss ‘opportunities in Brazil’ or deliver ‘the latest on crowd funding’ as examples. Typically UKT&I, local Export Clubs, Trade Attaches and Universities will host these.
4.. Alternatively there are the commercial network events. The Banks often deliver free events aimed at Business Growth, and these can be invaluable in terms of ideas and contacts made. Small commercial operations (Consultants, Legal Practices and Accountants) may run specific events aimed at imparting knowledge to the business owner.
5.. Finally there are the ‘sector specific’ events. Networks that concentrate on vertical markets such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, marine and so on. Certainly supply chain issues and contacts can be useful.
The first two types of event are designed to bring the same faces back to the event on a regular basis, therefore creating an ongoing rapport. The latter ones may attract back the same faces, but there is less emphasis on ‘membership’, so you may only get one chance to meet a key person whom you can do business with.
Now you have decided which type of network is the most attractive to you, how do you make it work for you, and how do you break the ice with people you have never met?
A good tip, on arrival is to pour a coffee/tea for the person who arrived 30 seconds later. Many sessions have a table equipped with flasks, cups and saucers, and the invitation to help yourself. Invariably as you pour your own drink, another arrival appears…. “Are you a coffee or tea person?” is a good opener, as you have the flask in your hand. BINGO, the ice is broken.
“So what are you hoping to get out of this session?” A natural extension of the above opener.
Key for networking is to listen to others, do not bore them with what you can do. Use the old sales technique of ‘one mouth, two ears’. Make sure you use mouth and ears in this ratio. Become an ‘expert listener’. Listening and Hearing are two completely different things. Eye contact is important, and try to avoid looking over the persons shoulder at new arrivals entering the room. Do not attend with a pile of brochures, business cards are enough.
Set your sights low. Attending is NOT about getting an order, it is about starting a dialogue and relationship. Take the longer term approach to business generation. Have a very brief ‘strap line’ on what you do, 15-20 seconds should suffice, after all, you are trying to create a reason to maintain dialogue without boring the person whom you are communicating with. If they want to know more, deliver, but keep it succinct.
Be aware of what is going on in the world. For example, “How do you think the Chancellors statement on …….. will affect your business?” Or “Presumably the road works close to your factory are creating some problems for you?” All designed to ‘open up’ the person you are talking with.
“Well, I am not very good at the ‘eye contact’ bit, and when I arrived at the refreshments table there was nobody else there to pour a coffee for. Help.” Now you need another tactic to break the ice. ‘Accidentally on purpose’ treading on someone’s foot is not necessarily a good tactic, but commenting on a persons ‘jazzy tie’ can be.
When the presentation is about to start, you will invariably sit next to someone, that is unless you have totally isolated yourself. Just turn round as say “Hi, my name is Theodore” and offer a business card. Perhaps after the presentation, have a brief chat with the person who asked a question that you may have asked had you been bolder….. “A good question you asked there, much the same was going through my mind”.
Set an objective like ‘I intend to give away 4 business cards and collect 4 from others’. Highly reasonable. Then, the following day, drop the person an e mail, unassuming, but expressing some pleasure in having met. If you think there is something worth pursuing, suggest a meeting and explain some benefit in doing so.
Once you have had some success in gaining useful contacts, your confidence will grow. Make sure you follow up on contacts made before you attend another event.