March 3, 2023 Andy Driver

If just the word ‘networking’ fills you with dread, don’t worry, you are not alone. For many people the idea of meeting a roomful of strangers can be counterintuitive at best and frightening at worst. 

Many seasoned networkers will recognise those feelings, but they will also tell you that with practice, networking can become a skill, a learned behaviour, and that it is important for the development of your business.

Perhaps the first rule of networking is having a really clear idea of why you are planning to attend a networking meeting and what you want to obtain from the event itself.

For many successful businesses, the role of networking is to build their relationship with like-minded businesses and associated enterprises.

It’s also a good opportunity to learn more from others about their marketplace and how to succeed as a business.

The elevator pitch

In order to get the most out of networking events it’s important to be able to frame your business proposition and describe briefly what your business is about, what you do and the types of customers you help to serve.

This focus will help to do two things: generate interest from the person / people you are talking with at the event and ensure that you are really clear and centred right from the start of the conversation.

It’s tempting to imagine that every networking event you go to yields business. This is not necessarily true. However, if you start with the expectation that you are there simply to shake hands and be polite, then it’s difficult to imagine developing your business.

Rule one for networking is not to sell to the room

People enjoy meeting other people as individuals first and learning about their business, second.

Most people do not like being sold to but are often happy to help if you explain the types of people that you are looking for introductions to, whether they be people in your sector, with whom you want to build partnerships, or details of your ideal end customer.

Networking can be seen cynically seen as something slightly unseemly or non-productive. So, some people stay away from networking altogether. The trick is to get the role of networking right for yourself. As an individual and for your business.

There is a whole series of networking opportunities available across the business community and here are just a few of them.

Referral based networking groups

These groups work on the basis that you will attend on a regular basis and commit to bringing referrals. Some people enjoy these groups because they are structured and focused, others do not, for the same reasons.

Specialist networking events

These can include women in business events, specific networking or sector-based networking. Events like this have a specific audience in mind.

Virtual events

There are a number of events which you can join online and – rather like speed dating – you have a short period of time with the other person you are introduced to, to learn more about them and their business.

For some virtual events the technology allows you to extend the period from say 6 minutes to 12 minutes. The emphasis with these events is on a quick introduction. The subtext is to decide whether you would like to meet them again for a longer chat, perhaps on a personal zoom call, or a face-to-face meeting over coffee.

Open networking events are sessions organised by – for example – a local Chamber of Commerce or a business group, with no particular category of attendees in mind. So, expect to see a spread of people there.

Open networking events can be organised in different ways. Sometimes they are breakfast events where you each share a table and have a few minutes to explain more about your business. Sometimes they are a short presentation by a guest on a key topic, with some open networking at the beginning and / or end of the event.

Making future contact

The contacts you build at a networking event are valuable and generally worth following up on. So, if you commit to having a follow up session, do ensure that you do this.

People are generally happy to help others in business and it’s heartening to see the generosity of people trying to support each other’s businesses.

Beyond traditional marketing, networking is a great way of tapping into expertise. And insight and tips on how best to manage your business, as well as helping explore potential issues and pitfalls to avoid.

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