Every time you network, you are building your ‘brand’: your skills and talents and the services you offer are being presented to a new and useful contact. Whether going to company events, professional networking socials or inviting a good contact to have a drink after work, it's important to be prepared.
1 BE YOURSELF
The best networkers work as hard at meeting people who can facilitate their needs as they do at their job. Therefore, relax and be yourself, but make sure you take an interest in the person you are speaking to. Make eye contact and use their name quite often. Don’t just talk about yourself. Have questions prepared tailored to them. Be Genuine. People buy into other people not just what business opportunities they have on offer, and find it easier to do business with people they like and who come across as trustworthy.
2 DON’T GUSH
Don’t gush or schmooze or be overly familiar. Don’t keep touching or patting and throwing your arms around a new contact. When seeing a contact on a second meet, ask a question relevant to the information you got from the first meeting: How was your recent holiday? Did you try that restaurant I suggested? This allows a reconnection.
3 TWEET AND BLOG
Keep an online presence in social media such as Facebook or LinkedIN. Try to Tweet or blog positive things about a meeting with a new or potential client. Always ask first if they mind you posting photographs of meets. Always have business cards on you because you might meet a great contact in the strangest of places. And bring an extra supply of them when you’re attending a party, conference or networking event. Have any other relevant printed collateral or flyers with you and samples or freebies if necessary. Keep them in a place that you can find them quickly.
4 STAY PROFESSIONAL
Getting to the venue early gives you time to relax and prepare. Do not talk about the details of your private life in a meeting, no matter what difficulties you may be going through. It can be seen as rude and self indulgent. You must adopt an air of positivity and energy without overdoing it. Dress for the occasion, but don’t wear too much jewellery or a flashy watch. Always have clean shoes, hair and nails and don’t chew gum.
5 DON’T HARD SELL
The goal in networking is to build a relationship with a new contact, then to sell them your ideas, goods and services – not the other way round. You want to connect with someone who will tell others about who you are, and what your business is. Every opportunity you get, clearly describe what you offer and be clear about what you want. Word of mouth, the cheapest and best form of advertising, will begin to start working in your favour.
6 DO YOUR HOMEWORK
If there's someone attending who you'd really like an intro to, find out a bit of background info beforehand about their work. Check on LinkedIn or their company profile. Have questions prepared and work out how to pitch your goods and services based on what they do. Have an impressive website with a small 2 or 3 minute video presentation of you online with your elevator speech. Make sure you have an up to date LinkedIn profile so people can find you after you leave them.
7 INITIAL CONTACT
Face-to-face meetings will net you the best results. Work on your opening statement, often called your elevator speech (the one that puts you head and shoulders above the competition); it describes who you are and what you do. Refine and rehearse this until it sounds natural.
8 USE FOOD
Work out how you can use your social life to budget your networking. Inviting prospects out for breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner and drinks always acts as an icebreaker. See if you can do a deal with a restaurant, whereby if you bring more than three people in a month, they give you a discount. Get out of the office. Networking means putting you out there in places where you can meet more than one contact.
9 HAVE A GOAL FOR EACH MEETING
Know your goal and preferred outcome at each event. If you have a plan you are less likely to be distracted. Who do you need to speak to... a person to advise you on marketing? Are you looking for a facilitator or mentor? Ask in the crowd if you are cold fishing for these people. Strike up a conversation with anyone and pick their brains on who they know if you feel out of your depth.
10 FOLLOW UP
Send a ‘thank you’ email, text or card to all the people you have directly networked with. Suggest another meeting or offer them another of your contacts if appropriate. In our information heavy world, it takes more than one meeting and impression to build a meaningful relationship. You have to work at it and be proactive in keeping these important people connected and comfortable with you.