1. First, know thyself! Understand your style
A successful networker builds trust and develops relationships. This takes time and effort.
Harness your natural abilities and strengths.
- Do you prefer group networking?
- One on one conversations over coffee?
- Do you listen best or prefer to talk?
Chances are your most successful networking will be done where you feel most comfortable. Networking is about being authentic.
2. Set your goals
Establish networking goals. Too many people take the approach that turning up is enough but it can be much better to have a selective policy of less is more.
- Why am I doing it?
- What is the objective?
- How much money and time can I invest in it?
Your goals need to be realistic and attainable. Make sure you have tasks in mind as the fundamentals of your plan.
- commit to attending certain events
- ring/email a number of people per week
- put time aside to research and meet others.
3. Share information and become a value-add to others
One aspect of networking is sharing information. The information you choose to share should be of high quality as it is a reflection on you.
Good information can make you a powerful and trusted resource for others.
To add value you should think about the following:
- What are the current hot topics in your profession?
- What credible organisations are releasing material of interest?
- What new national or international research exists?
- What is being discussed in the media?
If you can harness good information and share it with time-poor contacts you can become a respected ‘value-add’ to them. This helps build a quality perception.
4. It’s all about people
Discretion is an important value for networking. You never know who is connected and other peoples’ networks are invisible to everybody but themselves.
Networking takes generosity on your part. Value your acquaintances and friends. Thank people along the way and make sure you acknowledge people you already know. Introduce people in your own network to each other to begin to be a link between groups to increase perception you are worth knowing. Don’t forget to use the power of online social networks to implement your plan. A little research on a network contact can pay dividends.
5. Front up
Attend relevant seminars and events. Make the most of events you attend ensure you have good time with contacts face-to-face. No-one likes to walk into a room of strangers, but your fears can be allayed by being first to greet others and put them at ease.
To increase your knowledge at networking events, check the delegate list or the name badges beforehand and decide who you particularly want to speak to. Share your business card.
The organiser of the event is a much under used resource. They generally know the most about everyone else in the room. Introduce yourself and thank him or her for their efforts. Ask them about key people you met at the event or to be introduced to people you have identified that are of particular interest.
6. Open ended questions
As you implement your plan make sure you ask open-ended questions in networking conversations.
Take a genuine interest in the contact with questions based on:
- When, and how?
Open questions communicate interest. Practice being a good listener. People feel most comfortable on their safest subject: themselves. The easiest way to build rapport with a contact is to encourage that person to talk about themselves. So make it easy for them.
7. First impressions and all that…
People say the first 30 seconds is your sink or swim opportunity to make a good impression. One of the most important things you can do is craft your pitch about yourself and your business.
This is sometimes called an elevator pitch:
What would you say if you had 30 seconds with your contact in an elevator, and you had to give an interesting and succinct summary about who you are and what you do?
Your pitch needs to make a positive impression of your personal capability and professionalism. Write it down and practice it if that helps.
8. Follow up
Some say that networking is about follow up or forget it!
Swap business cards with those in neighbouring seats and make sure you say hello to people. After the event you need to follow up in a timely way, using a one to three day window as a guide.
The follow up is a major aspect of networking. You want to contact people while you are fresh in their minds but not so urgently that they feel cornered (it’s a balance). Stay in touch.
9. Keep in touch
One of the biggest risks of a networking plan is failing to keep in touch. The follow up (Tip 8) is the first part of the process, but regular contact is important.
Find ways to keep your presence in the market without necessarily meeting your contacts in person. One means of doing this is to use your personal or firm newsletter to stay in touch without always making contact in person.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice! (But take breaks too)
Networking is a long-term process.
The best outcome is that your hard work has a snowball effect. Don’t be put off if you aren’t the most connected person in town after the first week! This process can be exhausting and requires you to be self-aware and focus on your goals.
There’s no harm in taking a break from your networking aims to relax or concentrate on your work either.