I remember the traumas around my first foray into networking. Having stepped out of corporate life the concept was pretty alien to me but I did realise that I wasn't going to get any work if the local business community didn't know I existed! So that first time I bullied myself into getting changed to go out from the safety of my home office and into the unknown.
I scolded myself about being late because I had twice come back into the house once for my mobile phone and once for my business cards. I dragged myself to a local pub with a big neon sign over my head that said "Nervous Networker" and was immediately made welcome by a group of local business owners who shared challenges, opportunities, business gossip and quite a few bad jokes.
There is no question that networking works. The reason why of course is that people buy people.
So where do you find these networking opportunities? Well look up where the nationwide organisation BNI holds its breakfast networking meetings; find out how often the local FSB get together and don't forget Chambers of Commerce, Business Link and the Round Table.
Look up "business networking + your area" under Google – a whole host of excellent networking opportunities are likely to appear – events held by banks, by incubator offices, by hotels, by universities. My advice to you is go along and try them all.
Nothing is wasted; this is after all marketing in the most fun way possible and probably the cheapest! Some will fulfil your need for peer support; some will provide you with tangible business opportunities. And don't just think this is for "professions" trades people do particularly well at these events.
So some practical hints and tips:
- Avoid joining 2 people deep in conversation, look for people standing alone or adjacent but looking out into the room
- Get the handshake right – firm and not clammy please
- You think many times faster than you can talk and that makes it too easy to start talking before someone else has finished. Don't do this
- NEVER sell directly
- Smile The whole point of networking is to meet as many people as possible, so don't stand in a corner with your mates.
To get past any discomfort you might set yourself a goal of how many new contacts you want to meet. You might also station yourself by the tea and coffee and show people how to use yet another coffee machine designed to confuse!
Whatever, take the bull by the horns, walk up to people you don't know, introduce yourself and start a conversation: "Where have you come from today?" "Whose guest are you?" "I find these events a bit nerve-wracking, how do you find them?"
Three easy ways to get away from people who you have got stuck with!
- Keep your glass with just a little liquid and say you are going to get a top up
- Go to the loo...
- Say – "Well its been great chatting to you but there are one or two other people in the room that I must catch up with so if you excuse me...," smile, walk away. Never lose sight of the main aim, don't just place the business cards you have gathered in a teetering pile.
Send new contacts an e-mail saying nice to meet them, suggest a coffee to find out more about them. Ask all of them where else they network and GO FOR IT
Business Fulcrum Limited. Through consultancy, postcards, copywriting and workshops we have 6 years experience in supporting small start ups who are thinking about marketing but don\'t know where to start; are struggling to communicate their marketing message; are not quite sure of their target audience and wouldn't mind chatting through the thorny problem of pricing. www.businessfulcrum.co.uk
Business Fulcrum Limited