Delighted to have had another article featured in the latest Oxford Times In Business section last week. The article was all about planning and preparing for you business networking so that you never get caught off guard.
Here it is if you fancy a read…
Plan, prepare and perfect your networking especially in the early days.
You plan for many things in business and your networking should be is no different. We will cover off planning presentations in another article but before you get to that stage there is still planning to be done. This can cover many things, some that may seem obvious and others that may not.
- Mindset – The way you approach networking is really important. If you start off thinking, for whatever reason it won’t work for you…guess what – it won’t!
- The beliefs you need to create the best experience are:-
- This is going to be a great opportunity to meet likeminded people.
- Being part of a networking community is a great resource to help support my business and there will be people in the room that I can:-
- Learn from
- Give business to
- Trust to introduce to my clients
- Get business from
- Be confidently introduced to their clients
- Rely on for sound advice
- This is a great way to keep up-to-date with what’s happening in other areas of business
- This will push me out of my comfort zone and support my personal growth.
- This is a great opportunity to expand my knowledge
- I am great at what I do and look forward to sharing that with others.
- The beliefs you need to create the best experience are:-
- Motivation – Why are you actually networking?
- It is important in business to know why you do what you do. If you don’t then have a read of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’. You can then highlight the ways in which networking will help achieve your why and create a compelling, motivational reason to do it.
- Journey – sounds simple and it’s easy if you know the venue but if not the check:-
- How long will it take to get to the venue
- Is there parking on site
- Do you need change for a meter or car park
- How long is the meeting in case I need to pay for parking
- Dress Code (1st impressions and all that)
- The most important thing to wear to a networking event is your smile. Others will respond to it by smiling back and saying hi – voila you’ve broken the ice.
- Dress appropriately for what you do – think about how you’d dress to see a potential client.
- Plan in advance so that your outfit is clean and ironed and your shoes are clean. Believe it or not the way you look is more important at this stage thean any qualification and experience you may have.
- As crazy as it feels to have to type this please do give good consideration to your personal and oral hygiene.
- Taking notes
- A note book and pen to jot down things of interest or actions you want to take after the meeting.
- I’m not a fan of using an ipad, or similar, for this as they can be very distracting and you may be tempted to check emails etc, especially if you see them dropping in to your in box. If you do decide to use an electronic device then please please please turn the keyboard clicks off!!
- Business Cards
- These are still a great way to pass your details on to someone but please do not hand them out randomly as it just looks like you’re selling. Treat them like money you’re investing in your business. You wouldn’t be throwing it around but you would choose to give it to the people you felt might benefit your learning, your clients or your business and ultimately your success.
- Small Talk
- When you first walk into the room there will be others there chatting in groups that you might want to join. Or perhaps someone will come up to you and introduce themselves. You may even approach someone own their own who’s looking nervous. However it happens this is the part when you are going to need to chat and having a few things up your sleeve to say will help if you too are feeling a little apprehensive.
There is no way around the fact that you’ll be involved in some conversations, it’s the easiest way to get to know each other. A no no is jumping in feet first with all the things you can do for everyone else and trying to sell your services or products before you even know someone’s name.
Questions to start a conversation are:-
- Have you been to this group before
- Do you know how many people they’re expecting today
- This is a fab venue have you eaten/stayed here
- Have you travelled far to get here
- That’s a fab bag/tie/shoes where did you get them
You will very quickly be asked the million-dollar question “What it is you do”, after all it is a business networking event and the most obvious question. Most people answer this question by telling people what they are i.e. I’m an Accountant or I’m a photographer. This type of answer is uninspiring, not very exciting and pretty unlikely stand you out for others in your profession. Think about the questions again… “What is it you do?” and work on a far more engaging response such as I make sure business owners pay as little tax as possible for an Accountant or I capture once in a life time moment for you to keep forever for the photographer. Now they’re my words and neither are my profession, but the idea is that the person responds with something like; that sounds interesting tell me more or how do you do that? Be the first to ask this question as people love to talk about themselves and you will learn lots more about them if you listen, are curious and ask more questions based on the answers.
Planning your escape – you may meet people who, once they start talking don’t stop, are very insincere or intent on selling to you within the first 5 minutes. Whichever they are they’ll hold you captive until you make a run for it. Therefore it’s always great planning to have a couple of lines in your armoury that will help you extract yourself from the conversation such as:-
- I’ve taken up enough of your time – I’m sure there are other people you wanted to chat too.
- I don’t want to be rude but I did promise XXX I’d say hello before the main meeting/whilst I was here.
- I must just use the toilets before the main meeting starts.
- I’m just going to grab a hot tea/coffee as this one’s gone cold.
Prepare for feeling nervous
- You may have heard of FEAR as an acronym ‘False Expectation Appearing Real’ and that is most certainly true for networking. It is not unusual to feel apprehensive before a networking event. Some experienced networkers still get nervous if they have to make a presentation or do something different. There is an expectation to be professional, perfectly presented and know your stuff which can lead to nerves kicking in and everything goes out of the window.
- The best way to overcome the FEAR is to do your research, plan and prepare – all the things we’ve covered so far.
- Trust that you know your business better than anyone else so are the most qualified person to talk about it confidently.
Many believe that networking is only for confident extroverts not reserved introverts. This is no true it’s just that extroverts seem more confident because they’re loud and you’re more aware of them of them whereas introverts can come across as shy and can fade into the background. Networking is a skill and both have behaviours that make a good networker. The confidence of the extrovert means they have little issues in readily introducing you but an introvert’s ability to listen and reflect means that when they do make an introduction it is exactly what you wanted.
Here’s some classic Networking Faux Pa’s people make and are undoubtedly winning ways to get it very wrong…
#1 – Sell sell sell…
Make sure you work the room and grab as many business cards as possible – after all you will want to add these to your data base to bombard them with sales messages via email and newsletter later wont you? You may get lucky and attend an event that provides you with a guest list that you can simple spam and send the same message to everyone regardless of whether they were at the event or not….happy days!!
#2 – It’s all about you…
Obviously don’t waste time asking about anyone else’s business. You’ve made the effort so this is your time to tell as many people as you can all about your business and try to sell to one or two on the day. A little hint here – if they try to tell you about what they do make some lame excuse and move on quickly…after all they’re merely prospects aren’t they!!
#3 – Treat ’em mean…
When you’re part of a networking group everyone else is there to promote your business and find you new opportunities. It’s definitely what they signed up to so there’s no need to be grateful. After all you’re a busy business owner so it’s perfectly acceptable when they call to introduce a client to you, not to get back to them with any urgency if at all. In fact, if they email or call again it would be perfectly understandable to assume they’ve got too much time on their hands and can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a busy professional!
#4 – None of their business…
When you’re given a referral you are now in the driving seat and the introducer should step away and leave it to you, even if it’s one of their best clients. This is your client now and anything that is happening has nothing to do with the introducer especially if there’s been a hiccup.
#5 – Say it as it is…
Your opinion is valid, sort-after and to be honest the only one that makes any sense. Make sure you let everyone know what you think and don’t give any consideration for anyone else’s experience, knowledge or view point.
TIP #6 – (mis)lead the way…
It’s ok to tell people you can do things you can’t, after all once they find out they’ll be on board and you can deal with their expectations then. Trust is easy to achieve, and a bit of flattery will repair any damage done