Networking is an important business skill – and one that’s tricky to master. How do you start? What do you say? How do you strike up an interesting two-way conversation?
Many people don’t feel comfortable networking, but here are my top five, tried-and tested networking tips. They’ll help you get the most out of networking events. And enjoy them too.
Step 1: Get into a conversation
Approach someone in the room and ask, “Can I join you?” If they’re polite, they’ll say yes. Return the generosity by showing genuine interest in the other person. Talk about them first. This should be easy, as most people love talking about themselves. It’s also polite and helps others feel comfortable with you. Here’s how to approach the conversation:
- Introductory: what do they do for a living?
- Digging deeper: what are they ultimately trying to achieve?
- The nub of it: who are good contacts for them?
Tip: It’s a good idea to summarise what you’ve learnt about the other person. It emphasises your interest in helping them.
Step 2: Talk about what you do
(More often than not, the other person will then ask about you.) Make sure you have a well-rehearsed “Elevator Pitch”- ie what you do, and compelling, interesting or memorable examples of your work. Your pitch should focus on how you “enhance people’s futures”: “I help small businesses pay less tax” is much more useful to know than “I’m an accountant”. End the conversation with “I’ve enjoyed our conversation”. Then exchange business cards so you can carry on the conversation at some later point.
Tip: Ask when is a good time to call them, and ask if you can write this date/time on the back of their card or put it straight into your phone. This signals your intention to follow-up.
Step 3: Connect with new people
Repeat steps 1 and 2 with more people. As some would say, “work that room!”
Step 4: Follow up
The crux of networking is that you must follow up. Call when you said you would; prepare what you said you would; help as you said you would; and if your follow-up is written, make sure it impresses. Lastly, remember to invite them to another networking event: if you’re a member of a well-organised business network (such as BNI), you should have the opportunity to continue the relationship through that organisation. A win for them (access to opportunities) is also a win for your business network.
- The more you see your contact, the easier it will be to build the relationship.
- Use a CRM (contact relationship manager). Nimble is one we use here: it tracks messages (email, social media etc.) and you can set yourself reminders to connect with people at set frequencies.
Step 5: Ask for work
It really is as simple as that. Once you have a relationship, ask if anyone they know might be looking for your services. The old adage is true: if you don’t ask, you will never know…