Everybody understands the need to get out there and mingle. Networking events are an excellent opportunity to engage with other businesses and grow your circle of acquaintances. If more people know about you and your business, you are more likely to receive enquiries to feed the top of your marketing funnel, which may eventually turn into sales. But not everybody agrees that spending their precious evenings chatting to people they do not know is a good idea.
Some people consider that networking is a waste of time. They have tried, haven’t seen any results, and consequently assume that it just doesn’t work. Others dislike networking because they feel that it puts them on the spot. They believe that in this kind of event, they have to sell themselves or their products and services, and they don’t enjoy playing the role of a salesperson. Finally, there are the introverts. For them, walking into a room full of people they don’t know and introducing themselves is a huge challenge.
If any of those descriptions sound like you, please bear with me. Networking can help your business a great deal, but for it to work, you have to change your perspective on what it is, how it works and what it can deliver. Here are my 7 tips for successful networking:
1. Change your expectations
If you go to networking events with the sole purpose to flog your product, business or idea, stop. Understand that the chances of someone actually buying from you there and then are close to nil. So don’t bother. Instead, go to networking events with a different purpose. Try to see if you can help anybody. Perhaps you can introduce them to a former colleague or email them an article you recently read that may be useful to them. If you shift your focus, a considerable part of the pressure disappears.
2. Pick the right networking events
Different gatherings attract different people, so make sure to go to the right ones for your business. If your objective is to mingle with your target audience, attend industry events and the kind of places they go to with their peers. However, do not underestimate more general functions. For example, local meetings aimed at the entrepreneurial community or at small businesses can be an excellent source of new connections. Ask your local authorities if they have anything coming up, and check Meetup and Eventbrite for more ideas.
3. Wear something distinctive
This is something that sounds silly but can really help. Most people speak to at least a dozen different individuals at any given event, and even more if it is a speed networking sort of gathering. We are only human, and all faces can blur into one at the end of the night, so make things easy for your new connections: wear something that makes you memorable. Some examples: earrings, necklace, scarves, glasses… They can act as a conversation starter to break the ice, may earn you compliments during the night and help you stand out.
4. Read non-verbal cues before introducing yourself
Entering a room full of people you don’t know can be daunting, but realise that at least half of them are in your exact same position. Try to start conversations near the drinks and refreshments station, where you are likely to find those who have just arrived. Alternatively, look for people on their own standing on the fringes of the room. They will most likely be checking their phones (we all do it these days), but you can bet that a fair number of them just don’t anybody. Approach them with a smile and see where that takes you. Avoid groups of two or three engaged in deep conversation. Larger groups, however, especially if their body language is encouraging, are a safe bet.
5. Don’t hand your business card out to everyone in the room
One of the least effective techniques is to go to a networking event and hand out 50, 60, 70 business cards to complete strangers you have not had the time to speak to because you were busy handing out business cards. Business cards are not flyers: it is quality, not quantity, that matters. Don’t just give your business card as a means of introduction. People don’t know who you are or why they should connect with you. Wait until you have had a bit of a chat, and only hand out your card if you genuinely want to communicate with that person and the feeling is mutual.
6. Remember to move on
Networking events are not the place to make your next best friend. Friendships do develop, of course, but you are not there to make a special buddy and chat to them in a corner about your shared love of dogs/ travel/video games for the rest of the night. Talk to people for a while and get to know them a bit, but be swift to move on with a smile and a “Lovely to meet you, we should now mingle.” If you find this too direct, simply look to the other side of the room and say something like “excuse me, I have just seen someone I need to speak to.” And if someone you were quite happy talking to moves on, don’t take it personally – it’s part of the game.
7. Follow up
Unless you happen to collect business cards, there is little point in going to a networking event if you don’t follow thoroughly afterwards. Send the people you genuinely connected with an invitation to join your LinkedIn network. Email that article or link you promised. Connect over WhatsApp or SMS. And don’t leave it all at that. If anything catches your eye and makes you think of them, pass it on. If there is an industry congress you will be attending, ask them if they are going and invite them to catch up over a coffee. You don’t want to be a pest, so keep it light and friendly, but do not be afraid to reconnect. Networks are to be used, not to make your LinkedIn contact list look impressive.
Networking is a marathon, not a sprint, so it takes time and consistency to see any results. Having said that, the returns can be incredible. So, next time that you receive an email invite to a networking night take the plunge and accept the challenge. You may even have a good time. And remember, networking is not about meeting someone there and then who will buy your product, but rather about building connections that can eventually get you there.