We all remember the ‘good old days’ of driving onto a business estate on a cold, dark and wet Monday morning thinking ‘I don’t want to get out of my car’ and go prospecting along a row of grey soul destroying buildings. The secretary would either ignore you or take pity on you and let you in to dry off for 5 mins. Either way, all we got for our troubles was a good drenching and a compliment slip with a name on it.
Later that day, you’d call the number and ask for the name given only to be told they don’t take calls! Why oh why!
Luckily these days this method of obtaining new contacts has been made obsolete by the mighty ‘Networking’ meeting. A range of face to face or online meetings designed to get people talking and connecting through business interests or common goals. Everyone, it seems these days, whether they like it or not has become the salesperson or face of their business.
There’s no point in just turning up and hoping it will all go well though. You have to have a plan of action so here are my tips for getting a positive outcome from your networking events…
1. Have a plan – I’ve always attended networking events with the goal of agreeing with 3-4 people (who you’ve had a good ‘light’ conversation with) to have a coffee with you at a later date (date tbc).
2. Look smart and make sure you have at least 30 business cards to hand in your pocket or bag.
3. Arrive 15 mins early and ask if there’s a delegate list. If there is, select a few people who would make for a good connection for you. If you don’t know them, ask the host to introduce you during the event. If there’s not, ask the host who’s booked on to the event. You can generally get a lot of good information from the host before things start to get busy.
4. Get yourself a coffee and place yourself where the others will gather once they’ve got their drink. Do not stand at the door and definitely do not jump on them as they walk in!
5. Smile! It’s surprising how many people get nervous when networking and a smile can settle your nerves as well as the person who you make eye contact with. Say hi, I’m..(insert your name) and either ask their name or if you can read it on a badge, say – Hi Steve, I’m x, what is it that you do? OR break the ice with a throw away line such as.. It’s my first time at this event, Is it yours/what’s the format today(?) and you’re in the game!
6. Don’t do the hard sell. No one likes being sold at! Having experienced this many times over, it’s a conversation killer! Ask open ended questions, such as how did you get into x or who would be a good connection for you? The point is to be interested, not interesting. Don’t dominate the conversation – think two ears and one mouth and use them in this ratio.
7. Always be thinking – how can I help this person? Who do I know that I could introduce them to, to help them.
8. If you meet someone who you could help or would be a good contact for you then ask them if they’d like to catch up for a more in-depth conversation within a few days or a week or so. Get their card and keep it safe. Make your leave from them, grab another coffee and ask the host for that introduction. Rinse and repeat.
9. Later that day, send your new contacts an email with suggested dates and connect with them on social media without coming over as a stalker! Do your homework and find out more about them and their business so you’re ready for the next meeting. Better to be over prepared than under prepared!
10. Attend the coffee meeting with them and again, try to help them rather than sell to them. People buy from people they like and your time will come. They will naturally want to know more about you as the conversation unfolds. At worst, you’ve either done business, helped them or made a connection.