Are you looking for ways to improve your business networking skills? Networking is perhaps one of the most effective and cost-efficient marketing strategies. Unfortunately, many professionals tend to put off building a business network until they really need one, which is when it’s usually too late.
That’s because it can be a daunting task. Sure, some people are very outgoing, so they’ll go to as many business networking events as possible, each time full of enthusiasm. Others associate networking with schmoozing people for favours, and it makes them feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re more reserved by nature.
Still, building a professional network can lead to more opportunities because people prefer to do business with those they know and trust. It’s not just what you know and what you can do with that knowledge. Who you know matters. Networking is all about building mutually beneficial relationships.
All the effort you’ll be investing now will pay off because you’ll be making contacts that can refer business to you, talk about you in a positive way, provide you with valuable expertise and help you promote your products and services.
Choose the Right Venues
The first step to learning how to network is finding out where you can go to make connections. You have quite a few options. You can go to events organized by your city’s chamber of commerce, attend conferences related to your industry, join business networking groups online, sign up for classes and workshops, reach out to people directly or ask people you already know for introductions.
In fact, almost any social activity or event can become a great opportunity to expand your professional network. You could be at an event organized by your child’s school, and as you’re mingling with the other parents, you realize that some of them are in the same industry or know someone you’ve been trying to get better acquainted with.
This may seem counterintuitive because when it comes to parties, it’s usually better to arrive late, but there are advantages to getting to a business networking event early. First of all, it will be quieter so it will get you a chance to get more comfortable.
Secondly, it will be easier to mingle because there aren’t that many people yet and they haven’t had a chance to settle into groups. If you see people standing by themselves, without a conversation partner, that’s your cue to introduce yourself and learn more about them.
This should go without saying, but you’ll want to make sure you dress appropriately. Your clothes don’t have to be expensive, but they should look more formal and professional. Networking events are all about first impressions.
If you’re not used to attending business networking events, and you get nervous around people, it would be helpful to bring someone more outgoing with you. You’ll have a familiar face by your side which will make it easier to start conversations with strangers. Just keep in mind that you’re there to meet new people, so don’t stand in the corner talking to each other—that kind of defeats the purpose of attending such an event.
Start with Non-Business Topics
To make the most out of a business networking event, resist the urge to wait around for someone else to approach you. Simply walk up to people, introduce yourself and ask them something like “What brings you to this event?” In the first few minutes of the conversation, it’s usually better to talk about non-business topics like hobbies, travel, book recommendations etc. This will make your interlocutor feel more relaxed around you, and it will give you a chance to find some common ground on a personal level. Networking is about building trust.
If you’re not exactly an extravert, you can focus more on asking the right questions and listening. It’s actually better to talk less and listen more because good listeners make their interlocutors feel special so they’re more likely to remember you and want to follow up on your conversation.
Sometimes, when people dislike networking, or they’re more introverted, they try to overcompensate during these events, and they end up talking too much. You want to keep the conversation flowing naturally, so you need that back and forth. After a few minutes of light, friendly conversation exchange business cards and politely move on. You want to talk to as many people as possible, so don’t spend all your time talking to just one person.
Ditch the Sales Pitch and Focus on Building Relationships
Novices sometimes attend networking events with the hope of making a sale, but this is the wrong approach because networking isn’t about selling. Instead, you want to focus on building professionals relationships that may lead to referrals or sales later on. To do this, you need to invest your time and energy into getting to know people and encouraging them to get to know you.
As we mentioned before, worthwhile professional networks are built on trust. If your interlocutors happen to ask you about your company, products or services – which they probably will – be ready with a short and clear description. If they show further interest, you can talk about what inspired you to create your company and some of your more recent accomplishments. If you show your passion and enthusiasm through the way you talk, you’ll make a more lasting impression than if you gave a detailed technical description of your products or services.
Don’t Be Negative
As your making conversation, avoid complaining about the economy, changes in your industry or talking negatively about coworkers, employees, business associates etc. First of all, you want to come across as warm and inviting, so you want to smile and steer off any unpleasant topics.
Secondly, you don’t want your potential contacts to think that you’d say negative things about them if they were to do business with you. It may feel tempting to vent about something you’re struggling with, especially since you’re surrounded by people who might have gone through similar experiences, but this is not the right time and place. Since the goal of networking is building mutually beneficial relationships, you want your potential to remember you as a positive and confident person.