There’s something about the word ‘networking’ that puts the fear of God into many entrepreneurs. But we’ve come a long way from the awkwardness of sitting around a table with a group of strangers and sharing a fun fact about yourself to break the ice.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re likely to be passionate about your business, and communicating this to others comes naturally – it’s just finding the format and approach where you feel most comfortable and productive in doing so.
Networking is often the most underestimated, yet most poorly thought-out, activity that a lot of business people undertake. So, here are some of my favourite tools and strategies to ensure that networking isn’t a waste of time and is not only targeted but lucrative.
Choose the right networking events
Don’t just head to everything you’re invited to – even if it’s at the cool new bar you’ve been desperate to visit. Be strategic. Choose the events you attend wisely. Your time is precious so make sure the events you choose align closely to your supply side, and your customer side (with emphasis on the latter which will have a greater impact on your bottom line).
Your elevator pitch: don’t panic!
Be natural. Don’t focus on the minutiae of your day-to-day working life and the intricacies of your product or service. But do make it emotive and talk in layman’s terms; remove meaningless industry jargon as your target market just wants to know how your offering will benefit them personally.
The business card swap
Invest in a business card reader or app. This is so much slicker and more organised than stuffing a lot of cards in your handbag or pocket, which you’ll lose. Plus, it makes you look super professional.
Don’t waste any new contacts!
Don’t treat them like the dusty old Filofax you had in the ’90s. Hook up your networking contacts to a killer nurturing system. Make sure you follow up in a targeted, bespoke fashion with the right ‘call to action’ at the right time.
Make the most of the automated systems that are available online and hook them up to your business card reader, where you can create a number of different communication responses depending on the audience – whether it’s sending out a price list or service package, or a proposal for a meeting or online consultation.
Finally, don’t think of networking as merely face-to-face conferences or events. Some of the best contacts I’ve made in the industry are people I’ve never met, are based in different time zones and sometimes don’t even speak the same language.
There is a plethora of online networks you can maximise. LinkedIn has thousands of industry groups where other people in your sector share tips and advice. There are Facebook groups and Twitter chats for like-minded individuals where people are genuinely happy and eager to provide advice and information to others – whether it’s a freelance community in your city, or a forum for discussion of the latest issues affecting your sector.
Webinars are also becoming more popular – not only are they opportunities to learn more about business, but they provide handy business connections.
A lot of making networking work for you is common sense. Find a forum you enjoy – be it a Facebook community or going to your industry monthly drinks reception – and plan in advance how you want the experience to work for you.
Much like everything in business growth, it’s all in the planning, and by being strategic, and automated in your approach, you can make sure networking is no longer something you dread, but something you relish.