Networking is one of those Marmite kind of words – you either love it or hate it. Business is easy if you can bowl into a room of strangers and not only make ‘friends’ but actually address a underlying business agenda at the same time. For those who don’t flow into it so easily, much like that equally feared phrase ‘team building’ it can strike a fear like no other. It takes our natural social skills and places them in what can be at times a very artificial environment. More often than not the term conjours up an image of suited and booted folk, with laminated name badges, shuffling round a room awkwardly and making small talk.
In today’s business sphere, networking takes place as much online as it does face to face, and those clichés have been ditched for a fresh, fun approach. Talk networking today to any savvy business professional and they’ll tell you today’s gurus have changed the game slightly. With an armory of tools and opportunities – all that matters is that if you’re going to make the time to network, you get the best out of the experience.
There’s an age old saying that bosses have been churning out for years and triggers an eye roll from staff – “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail” and never does this apply more than in the networking game. Preparation should see realistically a third of the work done before you meet a client or attend an event in person, with the latter third falling on the follow up. The actual being there is only one chunk of the relay.
You must be clear on your objective – what’s the minimal you need to get out of the day? If you’re a target-driven type – make it’s a quantity like pick up 20 business cards at an event. Be clear about who you’ll be speaking to and what you specifically can get from them. If you’re heading to an event, gain an attendee list and note any speakers or contacts you need to engage with and swot up on their businesses before you go. The internet is an amazing resource – not only should you be looking up company websites for information, dabble in a bit of social media and make some links before you get there so you’re not going in cold. It goes without saying you’ll need business cards, a notepad and all the necessary documents on hand to share in an instant. Presenting yourself as an accessible, friendly and knowledgeable persona online will warm people towards you naturally and give you a head start. It’s like being the first one on the dancefloor at a party – everyone looks for the first mover, so might as well make it you. Get out there and show them how its done!
You never know who you’re in front of at any time and also who they in turn may be speaking to. Credibility and professionalism should remain at the front of your mind at all times. Keep every contact as an open door – especially when you work in a specific industry or cover a certain patch. Inevitably paths will cross and contacts will talk. Make sure it’s good stuff they’re sharing as bad news travels equally fast. It goes without saying presentability too is a must. Looking sharp not only makes you look good, but makes you feel good too so make sure you make every effort to look your best.
Primarily you’re there for business, and that should be at the fore of your mind, but equally the one advantage of face-to-face contact is literally that – being face to face. Use your social skills to read people’s moods, pick up on what they tell you and share them with others in the group. Social currency goes way beyond business. Be the person everyone knows in the room, the one that shared contacts they had with new people and brought people together. Be that person that asked about their hobby, or their plans for the weekend instead of talking at them about hard and heavy work issues without coming up for air. Great things happen when people meet face to face- the experience is much richer.
Networking is not an afternoon out of the office. Worthwhile networking opportunities take time, effort, preparation and follow up. Blend the use of online resources, social media and make the best face-to-face impression to really make the best use of the opportunity. And if you see someone that’s not loving the ‘marmite’ of it all – help them out. Building bridges is the name of the game, after all!
Why face to face networking still matters: