What is networking?
Business networking is an effective low-cost marketing method for developing sales opportunities and building contacts, that lead to referrals and introductions. They can be either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, and increasingly social and business networking websites and online events.
Networking as a marketing tool
Networking is so important because it’s not just a way for you to meet new people or build relationships, but it is also a route to market for your business. People don’t see networking as a marketing method, but it can be. If you change your perspective, you can absolutely use networking as a marketing channel.
Five steps to successful networking at an event
Taking these five steps to successfully network at an event, be it online or in person, is key to being an active networker.
Step 1: Set your rules of engagement
Set yourself a few guidelines before engaging with people at an event, for example: I’m going to talk to 3 people minimum, 6 is the goal. I’m going to get 10 business cards. Give yourself achievable goals.
Step 2: Be prepared for the networking event
If you do a bit of preparation first you will have a lot more fun and success during a networking event. Do your homework. Is there anything you need to know about the event? Who is the host? Is there a sponsor? Who could be attending?
Step 3: Stop going to networking events “looking” for someone to buy what you do
Networking isn’t about selling your products or services, so you need to change your strategy here. Networking is a long game. It’s all about building and fostering relationships. No one wants to be sold to at a networking event.
Step 4: Work to be a great listener and give more to others
Networking is all about listening and giving your time to meet new contacts and build relationships. Ask questions, be inquisitive and genuinely interested in people. Talk less about yourself and what you do.
Step 4: Follow up
Make a commitment to follow up promptly. Link up with your new contacts on LinkedIn or send a nice e-mail. Don’t just file away the business card you received for a rainy day. Every opportunity to meet someone is an opportunity to work together at some point, whether it is now or in the future.
Step 5: Working on your elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is a short 30-second memorable description of what you do and what your business is all about. Your elevator pitch should be memorised without sounding rehearsed. The goal is to earn a second conversation, not to convince the person you’re talking to they should hire you or buy your solution.
Crafting the perfect elevator pitch
Who are you?
Pretty self explanatory – This is where you introduce yourself with your name and business you work for.
For example, I would say “Hi I’m Ryan Hall, I’m the membership consultant with The Geelong Chamber of Commerce.”
What does your company do?
Craft a one-liner that summarises what your business does.
For example: The Chamber is the main business support organisation in the Geelong Region.
What’s the value proposition?
What makes your business stand out?
For example: We advocate on behalf of businesses and we facilitate large business networking events.
Grab their attention.
Spark interest with some of your offerings.
For example: We create dynamic virtual and face to face networking events, informational webinars, business mentoring and masterclass training sessions.
Tips to break into and move groups
- Have some relevant conversation starters.
- Introduce yourself to someone who is a bigger deal than you.
- Ask people questions about themselves.
- Exit a conversation gracefully.
Tips to overcome nerves at networking events
“What if I don’t know what to say?”
If you’re nervous about what to say to someone who you’ve just met, take a look at the news before the event, pick five easy topics to make small talk about. These could be current events or general topics. Try not to chat about potentially controversial topics like Donald Trump’s presidency or Coronavirus conspiracy theories.
“What if I don’t know anybody there?”
If you don’t see anyone who’s a part of your personal or professional network, then this is a great networking opportunity. See the new faces at a networking event as potential new contacts, business relationships or mentors.
“What if it’s not in my line of work or business?”
No worries, this is your chance to extend your horizon to other industries. The attendees might also know people in your industry or you might know people who can be helpful to them. Don’t think of a networking event as “instant gratification.”
“How much follow-up is too much follow-up?
It’s always a good idea to reach out on LinkedIn or send an email that it was nice to meet a particular person. It’s a good reminder for them and for you for when you connect again in future. You might even find it useful to incorporate the same phrase into the subject line of your email (i.e. “Great to meet you at XYZ event”).
“What if I get stuck talking to someone?
Networking events have different rules from everyday life. You’re free to say ‘lovely to meet you’ and excuse yourself politely after even a brief exchange with someone.
“What if I’m just nervous?”
Practice breathing techniques in advance. When we’re nervous, we tend to take shallow breaths, which only leads to more anxiety. Choose small and manageable goals beforehand as well , for example “I’ll aim to talk to at least three people, and then I can go home”. You can also try a vocal warm up if you haven’t spoken all day — if you’ve been quiet the whole time it can be hard to suddenly get verbal.
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