Make the most of your networking opportunities
Networking is not always a favourite past time of busy business people. But if you get networking right, it can be a fantastic way to extend your business contacts, build relationships with key influential people and generate sales leads.
Networking is all about your personal brand, according to Craig Griffin, Head of Marketing and Sales at Macquarie's Banking and Financial Services Group.
"How you introduce yourself and how you explain what you do matters. Don't focus on telling people just about the company you work for and your job title. Instead, explain what you and your business do and how it could benefit the contact you are talking to. For example a financial advise business I remember had printed on their cards "We help realise financial dreams, what is yours?", rather than talking about financial planning alone or products they provide", says Griffin.
It's also essential to remember every successful networker is focused on how they could add value to relationships. If you give people value they will be more inclined to give back.
There is, however, an art form to carrying out this important business function. Here are our tips to ensure you get a return from your networking efforts.
1. All good relationships are based on trust
So don't be preoccupied with 'networking' when you're at an event – focus on the relationship and building rapport. It's all about being authentic about who and what you are.
Also remember that networking is about quality rather than quantity. That is, it's better to talk to a small, select group of people at an event rather than trying to connect with as many people as possible.
At the same time, it's important to develop skills so you don't end up talking to just one person at the event. One way to ensure you talk to a cross-section of contacts is to bring people into your conversations. This will allow you to talk to a wide spread of guests at the event.
2. Brilliant networking is all about reciprocity
Often at an event, it's easy to see great networkers focusing on making introductions between people who have something in common. This approach puts others at ease and avoids a situation where you're focusing too much on yourself.
But the biggest benefit is that by concentrating on introducing your existing contacts to each other, this will encourage them to bring you into their extended networks.
3. Go prepared with a clear objective in mind
To make the most of a work event, make sure you go prepared with a clear objective in mind about what you want to get out of the occasion.
For instance, your objective might be to have your colleagues introduce you to prospective new clients who might be at the event. Another objective might be to identify potential suppliers for your business. Or you may wish to have an objective to meet people who might be potential future job candidates. The objective will depend on what your most pressing business need is and the idea is to ensure the event helps you address this need.
4. Follow up after an event
It's essential to have systems and processes around following up after an event. A good habit to get into is to write a relevant note on a new contact's business card as soon as possible after the event.
On the card, note what you promised to follow up on, suggested next steps and how you think you could add value to the relationship. And then remember to follow up when you said you would. All too often, people don't get back in touch with someone after initial introductions. If you want to get the most out of a networking opportunity, make sure you follow up on any promises to make future contact as soon as possible after the initial meeting.
5. Don't dominate the conversation
It's tempting, especially when you're nervous, to hijack the discussion, even if you don't mean to. Instead, take a step back, think about the needs of the other person and ask questions that help you get a better understanding of their needs.
Finally, remember that a light approach and a smile go a long way. If you're relaxed those around you will be too, which helps foster a good long-term relationship that has the potential to grow into something substantial in the future.