Networking is one of those words that often has a polarising effect on business people – they either jump up and down with excitement and produce a fistful of business cards, or squirm and cower in a corner.
But love it or hate it, good old-fashioned face-to-face networking still has lots to commend it – and is often a valuable source of leads for local companies, as well as free advice and help on all sorts of subjects and the potential for word-of-mouth referrals. We’ve tried lots of local ones including BNI Diamond and Business Buzz to name a few, and got different things out of all of them.
So, what do you need to bear in mind? Here are a few top tips for getting the best out of networking events – and some etiquette tips for good measure!
1) Know why you’re there – What are you hoping to get out of the meeting, and who do you need to talk to to make that happen (Note: standing in the corner and hoping someone will talk to you is not an option. If you’re not confident, fake it – you’re unlikely to be the only nervous newbie in the room)
2) Research the group – Networking groups come in all shapes and sizes, some paid, some not, some for specific sectors, even some where people bring their children along. While that can make for an overwhelming choice, it does mean the odds are high of finding one that’s perfect for you and your needs, so don’t be afraid to ask people you know who’ve been to events for recommendations or just to try a few out until you find the right fit.
3) Have your pitch ready – Many events ask members to give a summary of their business, and people you talk to will be interested in this too. Have something prepared that briefly sums up what you do and the most interesting aspects of your offering without going into huge amounts of detail. The aim here is to get people interested enough to ask you questions or your opinions on related subjects.
4) Listen as well as talk – Asking other people about their businesses and passion can be a great conversation opener and get the talk flowing.
5) Swap details – It’s great to just get to an event and get talking to people, but do remember that the end goal is businesses development, so try and talk to plenty of people, and get their details as well – whether email or business cards. Diary to follow up with them in a few weeks’ time if you think your businesses could help each other.
6) Take plenty of business cards – Having your details to hand if needed is vital so people remember you.
7) Keep it professional – You may meet someone you get on really well with, but don’t forget this is above all a business event, so don’t talk about your personal life too much, and don’t go too crazy on any alcoholic refreshments!
8) Don’t be disheartened – You may not meet many people on your first few attempts, or meet lots of people but get no leads. Don’t give up – just keep going, maybe trying different events, and you will make progress sooner or later!