When I became self-employed in 2014 I was vaguely aware of the concept of business networking and networking meetings, but had no idea what to expect or what you’re supposed to actually do at one. In this post I’ll attempt to share what I’ve learnt so far.
1. Be yourself – everyone else is taken
The adage “people buy people” is true for networking too. By not putting on a front and actually being yourself, you’ll hopefully connect with other people in the room and build relationships with them. I’ve seen some people put on an act at networking, but I prefer to try to be myself.
2. Don’t sell
When I first started networking I assumed that I had to sell what I did to everyone I met. Actually, hardly anyone in the room will buy your service, but it’s the people they know who could. By people getting to know you, hopefully you’ll be at the front of their mind when someone asks for a referral in your skill area. To quote Andy Lopata (a networking strategist): “Your network might not become your clients, but the people they know might”
3. Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!
In groups of people, I get very anxious and at first found networking groups daunting. The best thing to remember is that over half the people in the room are probably just as nervous as you are. It is outside of most people’s comfort zone so will be a bit scary, but remember that everyone else is in the same boat.
4. It’s “dog meet dog” not “dog eat dog”
Lots of people when networking assume that people offering similar services to you are your competitor and to be avoided. This isn’t true. As mentioned before, people buy from people and people have different skills and niches. As a web developer, I meet quite a few other web people at networking. I’ve referred work to a couple of them and vice versa. They have different technical skills to me and sometimes they or I are too busy to do a project. Plus sometimes it’s nice just to talk “techie”.
Bit obvious this one when you think about it. At networking have you ever enjoyed the breakfast or cup or coffee and a chat and come away realising you got nothing out of it? Some things to consider doing are: arrange follow up 1:1s with people you met, keep a list of contacts you’ve made, ask people how you can help them and vice versa.
6. Be prepared
Most networking meetings have a “60 second” slot where you stand up and tell the room a bit about you and what you do. I, and most people, don’t enjoy this part of the meeting, but I’ve discovered that writing down what I’m going to say beforehand makes the process more bearable. It’s a good way to make sure you get the message across you want.
Some networking meetings publish a list of attendees beforehand, one idea is to have a look at the list and see if there’s any potentially useful connections who will be attending.
7. It takes time
It’s not just a case of rocking up at a networking meeting and assuming the contacts and work will flood in. Trust and relationships take effort and don’t happen over night. Don’t give up after one or two visits, give it time.
I’d welcome your comments below, including any hints/tips for networking you’d like to share.