Do you find that you hate networking? Or feel like you’re bad at it? Five years ago, I’d have said “yes!” to both of these things. During the last few years, I’ve learned a few simple tricks – and increased my confidence – so I thought I’d share them with you. Read on to find out more…
Be prepared I’m naturally over-organised, and this can lead to panic and overwhelm as much as strong preparation! But here are the key things: research the event or group you’re going to attend and know what to expect – there’s nothing worse than finding out in the moment that you’ve got to give a 3-minute pitch or should’ve filled in a quiz beforehand.
Plan your journey, contact the host if you’re uncertain about things like what kind of catering will be on offer or whether there’s anything to pay for on the day. Pack your bag with plenty of business cards, charge your phone, pick an outfit you love and feel comfortable in, and bring your preferred method of taking notes.
Listen AND speak This one sounds obvious, but so many of us get stuck in whichever is our preference – we all tend to have one! I’m a talker, and I have to remind myself to slow down and listen… and then also take an interest in what is said. On the other hand, if you spend the meeting sitting quietly and soaking it all in, the other attendees aren’t going to learn about you and your fabulous business – you have to put yourself forward too!
Strike a balance: make sure that you ask people about themselves and their businesses, as well as sharing your own thoughts and information. Listen out in particular for ways in which you can help other people. This may not even be about promoting your own business – it might be that the person is seeking a supplier you can offer a recommendation of, or that they want to know where the best place is locally to go for a dinner with friends. The old chestnut of networking being built on the concepts of know, like and trust is true – and we build all three of these by building rapport and sharing our expertise in all areas of life.
Go in knowing what you want to get out of it This one was a real lightbulb for me. I wondered so many times why I walked away from networking sessions dissatisfied. I was going in prepared. I knew what I was doing. I gave good pitch… and I still left thinking that I hadn’t got what I wanted.
And then I realised that I had never decided what that was.
The next meeting I attended, I walked in knowing what I wanted to get out of it. And everything changed. I wasn’t single-minded during the event, I was still open to possibilities and listened in order to learn as much as possible. But I also knew how I wanted to feel when I left, was certain of what I would achieve, and that helped to me do it.
The goal can be different every time, and I’d caution against it being something such as, “sign up ten new clients” for a few reasons. I find that appropriate goals are things like: learn about three new businesses; be the one to initiate two conversations; recommend at least one supplier. I’ve even gone with the intent of making a new friend… and managed it!
The only way to get what you want is to decide in advance what that is.
Trust your judgment and be yourself Last-minute nerves are such a thing. You might have hit traffic, or spilled something on your outfit, or accidentally hit snooze. We’re human, it happens. Don’t let it throw you off. You’ve got ready and done the work. You’ve decided to meet new people. And they are waiting to meet you.
Trust that you’ve chosen a group you can learn from (remember that there’s no obligation to go back if you realise it’s not for you!). And have confidence in your wonderful self to be exactly who you are. The business world is increasingly diverse – if a business suit isn’t you, turn up in jeans or leggings (hey, I AM a personal trainer!), or whatever IS you; if you’re a swearer, show that side of yourself (once you’ve read the room at least a little!). The basic rules of social convention do apply, but you also have to show up as yourself in order for people to, again, know, like and trust you.
Ready to put these gems to good use? Join us at Co-Women and get flexing those networking skills!