Networking. It is the most terrifying of words that any new start can hear.
You can picture the subject line of the email now ‘Networking breakfast tomorrow at 7.30’. Your heart starts to speed up, beating just that little bit faster. Palms sweaty, you start glancing around the office. Searching for any sign of reaction. Senses finally tuned in case you make eye contact. Thinking to yourself maybe someone else will respond, Maybe nobody knows I read the email.
Ever felt like that?
What is it about the word ‘networking’ that can sometimes send us into a world of fear? Is it the awareness that the event’s sole purpose is to intentionally meet and interact with new people? I can understand this initial hesitation. Networking can be a little bit painful at times. It can be a veritable minefield of sensitive social interactions that need navigated with care and precision. Those first few events, where you stand by the coffee table, eyeing up the competition. Plotting the safest strategic course to the door. Fumbling in your wallet or purse to find a business card to “connect” with someone.
If this description fits you, if you are looking at the event as simply a task to be crossed of your list, or as a “forced friendship.” Then don’t worry because we can change that, you just haven’t been shown what is good about networking.
Networking is great. It is important, useful and it can be fun too.
Having recently attended a few great events with Pale Blue Dot (Arts and Business Awards 2016, ‘Be the Change’ Twitter Workshop to name a couple). I thought I would share with you my top five tips for navigating the social minefield of networking.
- Start Small
Allow yourself to ease into it. One to one conversations are great for building up confidence. They allow you to really focus on the person in front of you and develop good foundations. A small group provides you with space to be able to ask in-depth questions and learn more about that person and their business than if you were in a big group. Try to catch people while they are by themselves, they will appreciate the effort.
- Know Yourself
Good networks are only as good as the links that connect them. Know yourself and what you want people to remember. Never skip over a small detail, because you never know what people will pick up on. Remember you control the conversation when you are speaking. Command it and share what you are passionate about, what makes your business unique and different.
- Questions are the Ultimate Weapon
What makes a connection great is how they can fit and meet your business’s needs later on down the line. Collaborations are fantastic opportunities for growth. Come to a conversation ready with a number of questions you want answered. You want to learn the key facts at that first meeting; who are they, what do they do and then you can go from there. Be interested in them, let them know that you value their time and information.
- The Hook
Never finish a conversation without leaving a ‘hook’. Something that will allow you to pick this conversation up again. Exchange details, a business card is perfect for this or for the digitally savvy exchange LinkedIn profiles. End your conservation with a ‘to do’ as this allows you to follow up naturally later on e.g. ‘Here is my email, if you could connect me to your colleague that would be great’.
Networks are built faster when we share. After you have been talking to someone for a while ask if they have any recommendations for who you should meet. Or go a step further and introduce them to someone else, ‘Oh you are into that, well you should meet X they are doing great things in that area’. If you have read something that you think might be of interest to the other party, then pass it along. An email will remind them of the meeting, this builds up your reputation as someone who is interesting, relevant and helpful.
Most importantly have fun. Networking is designed to be fun, it is an opportunity to learn and expand your knowledge base. Be open, because you never know where your next client or piece of work might come from. You may happen to make one of your best business opportunities at a 7.00 am breakfast event that you just so happened to get an email inviting you too.