Here’s a question: is networking inherently awkward or are you just making it that way? It’s not always easy building strong business connections but it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. Here’s 6 ways you can network successfully and hopefully throw away the idea it’s only for smooth business types.
Take a genuine approach
Networking sounds like it should be all about business, all the time. But you never know what connections will benefit you in the future. Sarah Green from Weddings & Wine suggests taking a genuine interest in the people you meet for a better long-term connection:
“The key to great networking is to make it a meaningful connection. Don’t just shake someone’s hand and throw a business card at them, take the time to have a chat and find out about the person you are talking to and what they do. The best networking encounters, are ones where you can find a mutual benefit from the connection. You are far more likely to hear from someone, if there is a benefit to them, as well as yourself. As a Marriage Celebrant, 90% of my work comes from networking, both with other wedding vendors, and potential couples. If I meet a wedding photographer who I can recommend, and they me, that is a great mutually beneficial networking connection! Always remember to follow up the next day (or when appropriate). Be it via email or connecting on LinkedIn – and keep the conversation going!”
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Have an opening spiel
Making regular friends and networking are two sides of the same coin. The difference is when it’s a business relationship your common skills should be front and centre rather than your common interests. It’s no use attending a networking event without business cards stashed away or a short introduction about yourself at the ready. The main thing is to keep it short and sweet. A few sentences covering your name, your company, what your company does and what you do within the company is all it takes. Finish off by asking ‘what is it that you do?’ so the other person feels engaged in the conversation as opposed to listening to a radio commercial.
Ask more questions
Putting yourself and your skills on show can be draining. The trick is not making it all about yourself. As Neely Raffellini, from the 9 to 5 Project, explains you can take the pressure off yourself by engaging the other person to talk about themself:
“Networking can be so stressful! The good news is that everyone else finds it stressful, too. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself. Think of networking as having a conversation with someone that you want to get to know. And, if you run out of things to chat about here’s the best tip – ask questions! People love to talk about themselves, so ask appropriate, yet interesting questions. This easy technique will lead to great conversations! Try it!”
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Be a great host
Don’t sit and wait for the right networking opportunities to fall in your lap. If you’re proactive you can create them. Think about the kinds of businesses and professionals you’d like to connect with and stage an event to bring them together. It doesn’t have to include a large budget either.
If you’re lacking in funds for a conference or formal event it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. On the smaller side you could host some after-work drinks at your home. Some well-arranged furniture such as bar stools and a sideboard for the canapes will turn your living room into an event space. Or skip the venue costs altogether with a folding gazebo in the local park for a weekend picnic. It’ll be a more casual affair outside the normal work week which is a great way to build genuine connections.
Be a great guest
It’s nerve-wracking putting yourself out there but the secret is everyone feels that way! You haven’t attended a networking event to sit in the corner. A great guest will make conversation, move around the room and make the most of the opportunities in front of them. It’s also acceptable to leave a networking event once you’ve used it to your advantage.
Remember to listen
It’s tempting to get your introduction spiel out to as many people as possible, hand cards out like candy and neglect the fact you’re here to meet people not just throw your skills at them. Instead of setting a quota of people to meet at an event and rushing through conversations, be a good listener. If you’re not enjoying the conversation then exit politely and find another person to talk to. But, never cut a good conversation short because you worry it’s taking up time. That’s doing more damage to your networking potential than anything else.
The number one thing to remember is that one real connection is worth 50 business cards handed out that day. Be open to opportunities because you never know who may be worth knowing in future.