Most people who have negative opinions about the value of ‘networking’ in business tend to comment that they see it as insincere and that there is always a hidden agenda to people you meet.
However the ability to network successfully is one of the most prized skills a business person can have. Whatever your business, you’re going to want customers and you’re going to have to make people aware that you’re out there so networking is not about oozing with fake sincerity but a fundamental aspect of every successful businessperson’s life.
What are the Personal Qualities You Need to Have?
Many people already possess the basic personal qualities needed to be a highly successful networker without even knowing it. You need to be outgoing and friendly, supportive, and a good listener. You need to have sincerity and show that people can count on you. To network effectively, however, the most important thing is to put yourself out there and be seen.
It’s not uncommon for even the most confident of people to feel uncomfortable entering a crowded room full of strangers and to begin engaging in meaningful conversation. However, people often find that the more they do it, the easier it becomes. Some people need to work on overcoming their shyness and the fact they tend to talk too much or too little but there are plenty of courses you can go on to overcome these feelings.
Wherever a group of like minded individuals congregate, there is the opportunity to network. Some events are specifically designated as a networking opportunity but trade shows and business exhibitions are also a good source of possibilities. These trade shows are not just there for you to get up on a stand and demonstrate your wares but more about the people you meet whilst you’re there and how getting to know some of them better might benefit your work or business.
Making a Plan
Although good networkers will be effective communicators, it’s not enough to be able to simply talk and listen well. Often, a group of business people may only be at an exhibition or trade show for a few hours or a day at the most so an effective networker will have devised a strategy before they go in order to make the best use of their time.
One of the mistakes in networking is that people tend to be put off going to events alone to meet people who come as part of a group. It’s therefore important that you’re prepared to come out of your comfort zone and see the event as an opportunity as opposed to a threat.
A good plan involves a number of strategies you can use to become a successful networker. Before you go, try to find out which individuals or companies are also likely to be there and set yourself a target of meeting at least 5 people whom you’ve never met before and who could be beneficial to your business. It might feel strange going up and greeting someone you’ve never met at first but most people will appreciate the fact that you’ve got an interest in them and their work and that you have made the effort and if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, the likelihood is that you’ll repeat the same old mistake of simply mingling with people you already know which is hardly beneficial to your cause.
Outside the world of work, most organisations adopt an open door policy in a bid to attract new members so it’s a great opportunity for you to meet like-minded people without the pressure of paying for membership as you’ll be able to visit freely at least two or three times before being asked to consider joining formally. Therefore, whether it’s your local chamber of commerce, a local community action group or even a chess or computer club, identify those organisations which you feel could benefit you on a business or social level and give them a try. It’s amazing how easy it becomes to meet new people once you become used to doing it regularly.
Carry business cards with you everywhere. Often, we meet people who can help us at the most surprising times. It may be whilst out walking the dog, sat on a train, whilst you’re at the gym or even in your local supermarket. By adopting a friendly and approachable nature, you’ll attract people to you even when you least expect it and these ‘new’ people might be very beneficial to get to know and might even become trusted friends. Don’t however adopt the practice of brandishing your business card to all those you encounter and too quickly. People can often get suspicious of your motives and can be put off if you are too ‘full-on’ in getting to know them before you’ve both had a chance to get to know a bit about each other first.
Set Personal Goals
In terms of attending an event, consider what you want to achieve from each event you attend. You do not have to view all events as direct opportunities to network. For some, your goal might be to learn from a particular speaker’s topic, at others you might simply want to keep up to speed with the latest trends in your industry. So, it’s not just about finding new prospects for your business or career advancement although inevitably, attending any event is an opportunity to meet new people who could prove invaluable to you.P
Give and Take
Networking is all about giving and receiving. As you make more contacts that trust you, they will also become people to whom you can refer others if appropriate. This is what makes the business world go round. As long as you’re generous to others, they are likely to repay that by offering your name to those they come into contact with which could result in a possible business referral for you.
Don’t Keep it Just About Business
We’re all busy people and, although we might love our work, it’s also nice to shut ourselves off from it now and again. Therefore, whenever you’re offered somebody else’s business card, you’ll have often had the chance to speak to them about other general things in life as well as their work. As you may wish to get back in touch with them later, it can be quite useful to jot down anything that might not be related to business but which might help them identify you and vice versa if you’ve collected several cards at an event.
For example, you may get into a conversation with somebody potentially useful and end up deviating from work issues to talk about their passion for Formula 1 motor racing. If you jot that on the back of the card they give you, then they are more likely to remember you as a result of you being able to refer to a specific conversation you had with them that wasn’t to do with business as they are most likely to remember you then given that they talk about business every day.
Why Referrals are so Important
The importance of networking, especially in business, should never be overlooked especially when you consider that research has indicated that a referral can generate 80% better results than simply approaching a potential customer cold so it is something we should all take an interest in.