Networking can be a great opportunity to share your business ideas or career goals, but it isn’t always the easiest to master, particularly if you aren’t that outgoing. While many think networking is just about making new friends, making small talk or exchanging business cards, there’s a lot more to it. Here are some of the best tips to network effectively and get the most out of it.
1. Evaluate your contacts regularly
Consider who is in your ‘black book’ of contacts and who you would like to add. It could be specific individuals or influencers from key areas you’re looking to break into, whether they’re target demographics for your consumer base, stakeholders in the community or potential investors. They might not all be external contacts either – consider networking with those in another department or at another office. Once you know who you want to connect with, you can find the best means.
2. Seek out networking opportunities
Sometimes networking opportunities fall into our laps in the form of conferences and events, other times you have to go the proverbial extra mile. Think about places your targets can be found. Perhaps it’s going along to chamber of commerce coffee mornings, cafes in the business hub of your location, or fundraisers and community engagement events. If you’re looking to network internally, why not arrange an inter-departmental social?
3. Remember, networking is a two-way street
It’s not just about listening to what others have to say, neither is it about sharing information about yourself exclusively. To start a conversation, survey the room and look for someone who isn’t currently engaged. Begin by introducing yourself by name, the nature of work, your job title and company name before asking them about themselves. Here are some questions you can ask to get the ball rolling:
• What services and products does your company offer?
• Who are your main clients?
• What makes you different from the competition?
Remember though that not all key influencers are business people – they may represent charities or other non-profit organisations, they may be community ambassadors or operate largely online. Ensure your questions are tailored to them.
4. Secure follow-up correspondence
Networking events are great but with so many people to connect and catch up with in attendance, we don’t often spend enough time talking to those who could benefit us. If you meet someone you would like to establish a greater rapport with, request a business card (and offer yours!) and ask if it would be OK if you contacted them in the coming few days to arrange a second meet up.
5. Make the most of social media
Networking doesn’t just take place in person, much of it happens online. From webinars to conversations relevant to your industry, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can offer you a gateway into the circles of many influential people, earning you invitations to events and raising your credibility as well as putting you in touch with other like-minded people. You should also consider utilising platforms like LinkedIn for finding out what’s happening in your industry, forging connections with fellow entrepreneurs and sharing your expertise.