Networking is one of the most effective and fun ways I know of to grow your business, but not everybody will agree… Often, people feel intimidated by a large room where seemingly everybody knows everybody else and you have to interrupt conversations to get anywhere! It doesn’t need to be like this!
Networking has worked magnificently for me, because I see it as relaxed conversation. And I’d like to share with you the five ways I’m counting on to make any event a huge success – not only for me, but for all the attendees.
Don’t try to talk to everyone
Instead of throwing your business cards or flyers at other attendees like so many ninja stars, try to connect with five people at most – yes, just five! That way, you will make meaningful connections.
After all, how long do most networking events last? Usually two hours at the most. If you have five twenty-minute conversations, that leaves you twenty minutes to: get your bearings at the beginning, grab a drink and a canapé, and move gracefully from one conversation to the next.
You won’t have time for much more than that, especially if the event is shorter. One meaningful, in-depth conversation will allow you to make a real connection, and to remember your new contact as well as they remember you!
You might ask “How do you know these are THE right five people to talk to?” You might miss a golden opportunity… This is just the wrong frame of mind to benefit from a networking event. Trying to talk to everyone will lead to an armful of business cards, but no real meaning to any of them and a total dilution of the event. Thinking you are “missing out” on something is the worst approach.
First, it distracts you from paying attention to the present moment. If every time you engage with somebody, you can’t focus on them, but instead you’re thinking “shouldn’t I be talking to somebody else?”, the conversation isn’t going to be respectful or meaningful. Secondly, don’t you think people will notice? They will feel that you are sizing them up and waiting to see how you can use them. It’s not the best first impression to make on a potential business contact.
Thirdly and most importantly, I firmly believe that you create your own opportunities. By connecting with a given person, you are sowing the seeds of future business relationships. The perfect opportunity is not out there somewhere, waiting for you to find it: it’s waiting for you to build it.
In that case, make sure and follow up. Most people never send an e-mail afterwards or that LinkedIn invitation or indeed, anything to build on that new relationship. Therefore, if you are really interested in building business connections, send a message of value – details of an event that might be of interest to them, a willingness to introduce them to somebody in your network, which would be mutually beneficial, a suggestion of a media outlet that could help them. You will stand out!
Don’t just look for what’s in it for you
Have you ever felt doubt creeping in while getting ready for a networking event? “All those needy business people… All that useless chitchat… All those companies desperately looking for business… Do I really have to go?” If so, you might be one of those people who think networking is just to “be done”.
Surprisingly enough, that scenario doesn’t ever play out at the networking events I go to. I meet genuinely interesting people whose career and business I’m delighted to hear about.
Think of what you will bring to the event. If a conversation opens up about a business problem that somebody is experiencing, can you share some insights of your own previous experience? Do you know of another event that people there might be interested to find out about? Could you introduce two people that you know at the event to each other? In what way will your presence make the networking event a success?
Believe it or not, business is very much about generosity. You get back what you put in it: the more you give, the more you get back.
Guess who gets to meet most people at a networking event? Guess who always knows what to say to complete strangers? Guess whom everyone remembers? The organisers. “Hi, I’m Susan, I’m one of the organisers. Is everything to your liking? Can I get you a drink? Is there anybody here that you would like to be introduced to?”
If you’re ever afraid of not knowing what to say, helping out and behaving as if you were a host will work wonders. After joining IIBN (Irish International Business Network), I was invited to become a board member. As a result, some of the responsibilities of making the events a success lie with me. Like other board members, I will do everything I can to spread the word about the organisation and to make sure everything runs smoothly when we bring people together.
I have been an active member of the Dublin Chamber. Thanks to their tireless efforts, I was able to meet a Maltese delegation in Dublin, which led to my exporting my services to Malta; and I was able to take part in a trade mission to Manchester, which led to my finding out about IIBN’s London chapter. One of their meetings happened to take place just while I was in the UK, so I thought, why not go?
Enterprise Ireland has been a partner of IIBN for the past number of years, because it makes sense for them to participate in an initiative that makes it easier for Irish businesses to export successfully. It is another network I belong to: I was a client of Enterprise Ireland before I became a member of IIBN.
The three are not mutually exclusive, but work in synergy.
Belonging to several networking or business groups allows you to bring the contacts that you meet into your broader network. This may open up many doors for them and hence cross-pollination increases the number of connections you can make for others. Karma has a wonderful way of rewarding you for making efforts to help others pave their own way forward.
Network depending on what stage your business is at
Who is your ideal client or business partner? What kind of business circles would you like to belong to? Is your client local, small business, sole trader? Look for local networking opportunities. In my case, I look for international, bigger clients: so I go to international, bigger networking events.
If you want to go international, attending local networking meetings may not directly yield the results you’re after. If you want to do business with big companies, attending networking events where sole traders and SMEs are the majority is not going to be a natural fit.
Combine this with the cross-pollination strategy: take what you already have, where you’re already at, and bring it to an event that represents what you don’t have yet, where you’re not yet at. For example you could join IIBN because of the Irish element: you are an Irish company doing business in Ireland – that’s the first “I” in IIBN. You want to export, and you’re looking at ways to bridge the gap between Ireland and the rest of the world – that’s the second “I” in IIBN. Take the Irish diaspora as a stepping stone bringing you closer to the rest of the world.
Time is precious, so make sure to choose your networking well, do what you can to make it as effective as possible and always leave time in the diary afterwards for your follow up.
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