Just the thought of networking can bring some people out in a rash. But increasingly, if you want to get your career, freelance work or business off the ground, you need to get out and spread the word – and that involves meeting new people and telling them what you do.
To help you conquer your fears and learn to network with ease – maybe even learn to enjoy it – coach Claire Bradford shares her top eight networking tips.
Eight networking tips for the socially terrified
Networking really doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Once you understand how it works and overcome your natural reluctance, you’ll see how easy and enjoyable it can be to make new business and work connections.
1) Pick your networking events with care
Not all networking groups are the same. From the meeting times to the cost to the level of formality, there is a lot to choose from. Networking groups work best if you can make a regular appearance and people can get to know you, so picking a breakfast meeting when you have to do the school run most days probably won’t be the best choice for you. Ask around, visit findnetworkingevents.com and try a couple to see which suits you best. If you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth, you don’t have to go again – just try a different one next time.
2) Be open to what you can get out of each networking session
Networking isn’t just about selling what you do to a room full of people in the hope that some of them will turn into clients. It’s a way to find support, advice, possible joint venture partners, mentors, kindred business spirits and recommendations. Perhaps you won’t sell your services today but you might have fifteen people sign up for your newsletter, get some guidance on that accounts issue that’s been worrying you, or meet the perfect decorator for your aunty. Be on the lookout for contacts, not just clients; support not just sales.
3) Be prepared to talk about what you do
It may sound obvious, but preparing what you’ll say when people ask you what you do will ease your nerves considerably. Many groups give their members a minute each to talk to the group. You don’t need to explain your whole business in 60 seconds – try this template to start with:
- Take a deep breath
- Say your name and your business name
- Explain in a sentence or two what you do and for whom
- Take another sentence or two to announce any special offers or events you may have, or ask for contacts or advice
- Repeat your name and your business name
Don’t worry about being ‘word perfect’. Just be you and smile. Remember that people buy people first, so if you fluff it, laugh at yourself and you’ll probably win a couple of clients on the spot.
4) Take plenty of business cards
Sometimes, people spend so much on expensive arty cards that they are reluctant to give them out to anyone but the hottest contacts, which is not a great strategy. Avoid thrusting your card at people within the first minute or two of your conversations, however, as this can seem a bit pushy. Get chatting with someone, and establish a personal connection before you ask them for their card or offer them yours. Some networking groups have a table to leave a pile of cards or leaflets for people to pick up, so make sure you have enough to add yours.
5) Take other people’s cards
If you’ve had a chat with someone, make sure you take their card so that later you can follow them on social media, drop them an email or arrange to meet up for a further chat about how you could help each other. If there was someone you didn’t manage to speak to but whose business had interested you, take their card from the table and email or call them to say hello. As we say at The Mumpreneurs Networking Club, ‘the fortune is in the follow up’. A word of caution though: don’t sign people up to your email list unless they have given you express permission – it’s really bad form.
6) Go back
If you attend the same meetings regularly, you will develop your connections with other loyal members. In a well-managed networking group, you will find a combination of stalwarts and new people, enabling you to get your business message out to an ever-widening audience but also reap the benefits of referrals and contacts from those who attend every meeting and get to know and trust you.
7) Remember that you’re not just networking with the people in the room
You’re networking with their networks too. So that person you’re having a giggle with about how awful the coffee is might not be a potential client. But maybe her sister is, or her colleague, or that amazing celebrity friend she has that you don’t know about yet. And if they happen to mention to her later that they’re looking for someone who does what you do, she could well remember laughing with you this morning and bring your name up. So don’t be too quick to move on from a conversation with someone if they are not your perfect fit.
8) Enjoy it
Networking ideally should feel like a pleasure – socialising whilst getting business and connecting people you know all at the same time. It sometimes takes a little time to harvest work from the time that you sow into the meetings and the follow up, but it is worth the investment of your energy. And if it really doesn’t feel like a pleasure, even after having put all of these tips in action? Well, it’s just another form of marketing. Don’t sweat – maybe concentrate on your social media instead.
By Claire Bradford of Straightforward Coaching.Claire Bradford