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Some of you are regular attendees; others not sure and others again absolutely hate it. I have always networked and passionately believe in its value. When working in the telecoms sector and establishing an office here in the South West, I gained at least one third of my business through networking. And, equally important, those customers remain loyal and don’t get whisked away when the next ‘too good to miss’ telesales call comes in – so long, of course, that you have ‘done what you say on the tin’ and given them the very best customer service. So do give it a try.
But before you start: you must make the time to follow up every interesting conversation/potential lead from each event within a couple of days. If you’re not prepared to do this, then probably worth waiting until you can follow up effectively.
I’ve jotted down a few pointers to help you:
1. Consider how many networking groups you join. Whilst the cost of a breakfast isn’t huge, the time can mount up over a month, so you need to be selective and support perhaps 2 or 3 groups attending regularly, plus your own professional network(s). Try out several groups to see what suits you – both in terms of format and the type of people who attend. Some are weekly and very much into referrals, some very informal, and many in-between. Some require annual membership and others don’t. You can normally always attend one or two events before joining, so take advantage of this – test and measure!
2. If the delegate list is sent out ahead, see who would be great to talk to during the event. Check them out on LinkedIn and their website first and get some background knowledge. Check businesses too against your prospect list. If there’s someone you would like to meet and you know that XXX knows them, why not contact XXX and ask them to make the introduction for you?
3. If the list isn’t sent out ahead, try to take a quick look at it on arrival. If it’s a large gathering, ask for anyone specific to be pointed out…
4. Set your goal of what you want to achieve from this networking meeting
a certain number of conversations with people?
you want to learn about the topic being discussed?
you want to try to make an appointment, or more, so you can follow up.
5. Get there early/exactly on time and bring plenty of business cards with you which are easily accessible (outside pocket ideally so you can extract one whilst still holding your coffee in the other hand)! Put received cards in your other pocket. It’s much easier to enter an almost empty room than one really full and busy. Have your own badge with you just in case yours has been missed or the name is wrong etc. You can get ‘proper’ badges made up very inexpensively and it does look so much more professional.
6. Be approachable and talk to people! After all that’s what it is all about…you want to create relationships which can be followed up. There’s no hard sell on the day and remember no one is there to buy!
7. Practise your 60 second summary (elevator pitch*) of what you do and how you help the people you work with…
o I work with….
o Who have a problem with…
o What we do is…
o So that…
o Which means… (benefits)
Show how you solve problems rather than list features and benefits. Remember, you are not that interesting and we don’t have that many really tall buildings in the UK!
*there are pages of guidelines about what to say in your 60 second intro, but this one used by Robert Craven is good.
Mine typically would be along the lines: “I work with ambitious business owners who recognize that they need professional support with their marketing. After reviewing the current situation, seeing what has worked and what hasn’t and understanding the aims of the business, their target market, pricing etc we agree a plan of action so that the business owner can concentrate on running his/her business, knowing that the marketing is in safe, pro-active hands working to grow the business.
8. Think about your body language and try to adopt an open and approachable posture to attract others to talk to you. Don’t cross your arms, no matter how tired you are! Never, ever pre-judge.
9. If you’ve come with a work colleague, don’t spend the time catching up with the company gossip – split up and talk to different people. And, don’t sit on the same table next to each other! The same goes for ‘friends’ even though business friends. Much as it’s lovely to catch up, don’t spend the whole session doing this. It can also be quite rude to other people sharing your table if you’re only talking to your colleague on the one side.
10. It’s much better to have had a good chat with a few people than a 3 minute conversation with many; you won’t remember them, nor they you; be passionate about your business and avoid the use of the answer ‘fine’. How’s business? ‘fantastic’ / ‘amazing’ is so much more powerful than ‘fine’! Ask lots of open questions to encourage conversation. Be interested in the people you meet and remember the old adage: “two ears and one mouth” – use them in that proportion!
11. If you’re at the receiving end of a ‘presentation’ from someone, be polite, but firmly extricate yourself after 5 minutes.
12. If it’s a seated event, try to annotate the cards you’ve collected as soon as you sit down – add something which will remind you of that person – visually/something they said/flashy tie/doesn’t matter what so long as it’s a memory jog; then when back in the office always write on the card the date/venue where you met them and any key points for follow up. If putting their details then into your data base, add these memory jogs here too.
13. If there’s a Q&A session, always try and ask an appropriate question, introducing yourself first with name and business name. Speak loudly enough so all can hear the question.
See Part 2 for tips on how to follow up after your networking event