Getting the most out of networking

Networking in business

It's common to feel nervous about networking, but the process doesn't need to be complicated or daunting. Networking can be as simple as introducing yourself to someone who has a similar business to yours, or who might know someone who can help your business. Try to relax and be yourself - this will help you enjoy networking. People will appreciate talking to someone genuine, and this can help you earn their trust and develop good relationships.

As you develop more confidence, try to expand your networking beyond your current range of contacts. Having a wide network offers more opportunities. For example, a florist who only networks with other florists is unlikely to find opportunities offered by hoteliers, wedding planners, and event organisers.

The following are some simple tips for effective networking:

Networking events

  • Arrive early and join in groups as they are forming. Meeting one person at a time is often less daunting than meeting a crowd.
  • Give your card to people you have engaged with, but keep in mind that networking is about building relationships, not just handing out business cards. If you have made a promising connection with someone, they may prefer to add your details to their phone than take a card.
  • Dress appropriately by wearing comfortable shoes and carrying a practical bag or briefcase. Make sure you can access your business cards easily.
  • Avoid messy finger food and alcohol. Holding a drink and food can make it difficult to hand out or accept business cards or shake hands with people.
  • Follow up all contacts made by email, phone, newsletter or make arrangements to meet again (e.g. for coffee).
  • Avoid using gimmicks to get noticed. They might help people remember you, but it could be in a negative way.

Introducing yourself

  • Talk casually about yourself and make sure you ask other people about themselves and their business. You don't need to be overly formal with people, just be polite and avoid being too overbearing and doing the 'hard sell'.
  • Shake hands confidently, and smile and look people in the eye when you talk to them.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences. What is acceptable, such as hand shaking, bowing, and relations between men and women, can vary in different cultures. It's especially important to do some research if you know you will be meeting with people from another culture, such as at a specific event or if you are travelling overseas.

Conversations

  • Manage your time effectively by moving around the room and talking to as many different people as possible. Practise how to remove yourself from a conversation politely when really necessary.
  • Break into a group conversation by smiling and say something like 'Do you mind if I join you?'
  • Prepare some conversation openers such as 'What type of business are you in?'
  • Learn useful techniques to remember names, such as repeating a person's name back to them (e.g. 'Good to meet you, Bob!').
  • Actively listen to the people around you. Networking is about both receiving and giving information.
  • Keep discussions non-political and avoid controversial subjects and social and personal issues.
  • Avoid probing for information that is likely to be confidential.
  • Be positive and professional. People don't respond well to negativity, and complaining about your business or someone else's may make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Treat everyone equally. You never know where people will end up in the future and how they might be able to help you, so don't disregard someone because you believe their rank or position to be lower than yours. Speaking with everyone also offers more opportunities.

Online/social media networking

  • Treat online/social media networking with the same importance as traditional face-to-face networking. While this method of networking does have some differences, common courtesies still apply.
  • Broaden your options by joining more than one network or group, either online, via social media, or through industry and business associations. Consider joining groups that your customers or suppliers belong to.
  • Start an email newsletter for your business so you can keep your customers, suppliers and other contacts up to date with your activities and invite them to your own events.
  • When sending out bulk emails, make sure you are not breaching any spam laws.
  • Learn more about doing business online.

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