Networking is sometimes considered a waste of time, but it needn’t be. Find out how to refine your skills and help you get more from each networking event, as well as how to avoid common pitfalls.
By growing your pool of contacts, networking can be an effective way of generating new business leads. This may be why many people confuse networking with selling.
However, networking is not selling: it’s building your circle of contacts.
If you attend a networking event with the intention of making some new friends, you won’t go wrong. On the other hand, if you attend on the premise you’re going to secure lots of new sales then you’re in for a shock.
Here is some advice to bear in mind before, during and after networking events, including pitfalls you should avoid.
Before the event
- Be selective about which networking events to attend. Your time is valuable so attend only those events that expose you to potential new clients.
- Do your research. If you can, find out in advance who is attending and from which organisations. Thus, you can focus your attention on meeting people from specific organisations you have pre-selected.
- Do take your business cards.
- Do dress appropriately for the event. First impressions still count and shouldn’t be underestimated.
During the event
- Do remember to smile. It’s a great way to get conversations going, and instantly warms other people because they’ll smile back at you. Many people are so focused (and, understandably, a little nervous) that they forget to smile.
- Do split up if you’re attending with colleagues. If you stick together, people are less likely to approach you.
- Be genuinely interested in what other people have to say. Listen attentively so they feel your interest. If you let others discuss their experiences and opinions and listen with sincere interest, you can have an enjoyable conversation without having to say much at all. What’s more, excellent opportunities present themselves simply because you’ve listened.
- (When asked), do talk enthusiastically about your work. Instead of listing services you provide, talk about some of the issues your existing clients have experienced and how you helped them, or general issues within the profession. This is an indirect way of illustrating how you help clients without appearing to be selling.
- Don’t interrogate people. Asking someone lots of questions, one after the other, is almost guaranteed to put them off you immediately.
- Be prepared to talk about non-work activities. Ensure you’re up to date with current affairs. For example, is there a major sporting event happening (eg, the World Cup, the Olympics Games)? Whether people like sport or not, they will likely have a view on it and it can be a great conversation starter.
- Don’t talk to the same person throughout. Here are a couple of tips for moving on.
- Introduce them to another person or group. They then don’t feel snubbed or abandoned whilst you are free to seek other acquaintances.
- If that isn’t an option, tell them how nice it’s been to meet them and hope they enjoy the rest of the event while you go and get a drink.
- Don’t look over the shoulder of the person you are talking to in the hope of spotting someone better. Give each acquaintance your full attention.
After the event
- Do update your database with details of your new acquaintances.
- Do keep in touch. Everyone will benefit from your newswire. You may invite some to a hospitality event. There may even be one or two in whom you invest lunch. Keeping in touch afterwards is the key to maximising the ROI (return on investment) on your networking time.
Networking is not just a case of turning up at events with a couple of business cards. Give some thought to your objectives and how to achieve them.