Growing your business [Part 1] Networking
This is the first in a series of articles on the many different ways you can grow your business, networking being a valuable (if sometimes awkward) way to start. As a practice we are looking to attend more networking events so we’re particularly interested in why and how we should network.
“I’ve met so many who have opened doors for me and remained in my life both personally and professionally. After a while, networking doesn’t feel like ‘networking.’ It’s both serendipitous and unpredictable, and something that just naturally becomes part of your work life and your personal life.”
Networking events take many forms – the most traditional being members of breakfast clubs who meet before the working day officially begins to have coffee, breakfast and present their products and services to all attending. There are lunch clubs, afternoon sessions, golf matches and even those that follow the format of speed dating.
The basic premise is the same though – you need to be prepared to walk into a room and talk to people. It might sound like the worst thing on earth but the point is that everyone who is there is there to do exactly the same thing. In a great article in The Guardian by Jon Card, quoting Dr Christine Buske, he says “…the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t make a connection and you never see them again”.
On the positive side you will go along to a meeting, enjoy the refreshments and have a chat with a few people. Some meetings require you to stand up and present yourself but it’s usually just an introductory sentence or two for the first session. Having a line worked out in advance is really helpful – for example “I’m Harry Smith and I work in the hospitality sector, organising events, mostly in the Derby area”. This isn’t to be confused with your 2-minute elevator speech (that comes later and you will be warned in advance so you can prepare) but it’s a handy way to introduce yourself and create the opportunity for conversation.
We have a few general tips that we’ve picked up as we’ve been networking over the years that we’d like to share:
- As you arrive, head for the refreshments area – that way you have a purpose and something to do, even if it is just asking for the milk!
- Look for other people who are on their own. Chances are they’ll also like to have someone to talk to
- Everyone’s favourite subject is themselves so say hello, give your name and ask them if they’ve been before. Open up a conversation asking questions and showing an interest in them – not just what they do for a living but as you would with anyone in a social situation – find common ground: kids, sport, home town etc
- When asked about your work, be clear, brief and don’t make it an obvious ‘sell’. By asking questions about their work, you’ll naturally work out any synergy
- Be generous with your knowledge – it gives you credibility, showcases your experience and it’ll make you more memorable
- Don’t ever assume that the person you are talking to is not going to lead to new business. You really never know – some of our most valuable business has come from the most unexpected sources, including competitors
- Don’t automatically discount a networking group if it has a lot of representatives from your sector – you can also use the sessions for peer discussions and to share best practice
- Have a supply of good quality business cards and give them out to people you create a connection with, not just randomly to everyone
- Follow up any enquiries or promises to source information when you get back to the office, as efficiently as possible
- Keep at it, it gets easier!
If you’re stuck and the conversations really aren’t flowing organically, a really useful process to follow is the ARE strategy – Anchor (get someone’s attention), Reveal (talk about yourself, admit you are feeling new and unsure) and then Encourage (ask questions and prompt conversation). (Source: Russell, The Guardian, 2017).
The point of networking is clearly to try and find new business but we’ve learned that it isn’t always a direct process. You can build up relationships that don’t necessarily yield results straightaway but a) they might eventually, b) you might get indirect referrals via them and c) the contacts might be valuable in other areas – knowledge sharing, for example.
Of course, as well as physical networking, there are also the online alternatives – emails, Linked In and Twitter for example – but it’s no substitute for shaking someone’s hand and sharing a real-life connection. Go on, give it a go – you have absolutely nothing to lose.
We recommend “The Psychologists’ Guide to Networking”, The Guardian, Jon Card, 23 Jan 2017. Read this useful article on networking in The Guardian here.