‘Networking’ is a buzzword which has gained in popularity over the last 3-4 years, perhaps to the point of nausea. It seemed to come from nowhere in the corporate world, rose to magnificent heights over the last couple of years in the SME market and now potentially suffers from overkill and saturation, with such a vast number of networking events to choose from.
There are also too many people who don’t value networking as they should. They don’t follow etiquette and waste their own tremendous efforts by not understanding what networking is or what they’re supposed to do with it!
Networking – what’s it all about?
Networking is around us all of the time. The point of it is to make connections with people you meet, wherever you meet them. It could be at a family or school reunion; it could be at your local pub or at a formal business networking event. The aim is to meet people, share information about yourselves which then may or may not be useful in the future – for you or for others you know. It is not about selling – and this is where the misconception lies.
Networking is not about leaflet distribution nor is it all about you! It’s about people and no one likes hard sell. Depending on the event, it’s about meeting customers or suppliers, carrying out informal market research, finding connections for you or for others and for some micro businesses, it’s about social contact.
Break it down to make it work
In order to make networking work for you, it needs a little bit of thought:
1. Before you start
You can’t get to every networking event that exists and this is often where some go wrong. If you’re looking for a very specific industry contact, you’re unlikely to find them at your local Chamber of Commerce; you’ll need to look at industry events.
Think about what you’re trying to achieve. For some, it’s being seen at events to raise their profile; for others, it is about generating leads and for others still, it’s about finding new suppliers. What event is likely to be right for you and who is likely to be there? Some networking events will provide attendee lists beforehand, so if looking for an introduction to someone specific, be tactical and ask someone you know to introduce you, if you’re not brave enough to do it yourself.
2. Listen and be yourself
So, you’ve arrived and you need to launch yourself into a roomful of strangers! If this is too daunting, get there early & play ‘mein host’, greeting newcomers; you’ll probably find a couple of you doing the some thing, so already you’ve found someone likeminded. Survey the room and look for people who look lost; they’ll really appreciate and remember you ‘rescuing’ them.
As we said earlier, forget about selling; be natural and focus on finding people you like. Rapport is vital as people ultimately do business with people they like and trust. Networking is about building relationships & building your reputation.
For this reason, don’t feel you have to stay on the subject of business and what you do; find common ground as networking is about who you are, not what you are.
3.Don’t forget to follow up…
Many fall at this fence and wonder why networking isn’t working for them. You must follow up with contacts you’ve made. Networking is ongoing; you can’t turn it on and off; it’s about staying in touch with people. So always follow up with those you liked or those you think you could help within a couple of days of the event, while you’re still warm in their minds. Get to know them and how you can help and they will reciprocate.
Make your connections online as well though Linked In and Twitter and make the effort to remember people at the next event. Introduce them to others and remain alert to opportunities for them. Networking really works when people rely on you to know what’s going on and know who’s who.
Where’s your ROI?
In our lean times, it’s vital that any marketing activity is monitored to ensure it’s working for you. You can’t go to every networking event in the calendar so be honest about whether each event was right for your objectives and exposed you to the right people.
Also, don’t forget the relationship building aspect of networking. You need to commit to networking groups and attend meetings on a regular basis so you see people regularly. Although we’re doing an increasing amount of networking online, you can’t ignore the power of meeting and catching up with people face to face. When they’re ready to pass business your way, if they’ve seen you recently, you’ll be front of mind.
So, take a step back, remember that networking is all about people and you can’t go wrong; what’s more natural than people? Happy networking!
Louise Fenwick is a regular writer and speaker on all issues of marketing and is Director of Coalition Marketing which provides marketing guidance and knowledge through consultancy and workshops. You can follow Louise’s marketing musings via her blog or on Twitter: