There is more to networking than first meets the eye…
It seems that more than ever the word ‘Networking’ is strapped to events without much consideration for what that really means. Companies and organisations the world over rarely promote their events without the word networking being used somewhere. Yet too few people ‘plan to network’. Too many people act like turning up is a skill set.
Ask an audience at a business networking event for a show of hands by those who attended with the hope that they might sell something and most people will raise an arm. Ask them who attended because they wanted to buy something and hardly anyone will move.
How’s networking working out for that audience?
There are clues in the word Network that tell us what we have to consider for it to be successful.
First contemplate what it is not. It is not netsocial, netbreakfast, netmeetingfriends, netbeers, netmememe or netgetrichquick… Just turn up and expect networking to have great outcomes for you and you will be saying a big hello to netfailure.
It is ‘net working’. You are casting your net to acquire an audience and then you work at establishing a range of outcomes that have everyone’s interest at heart, starting with theirs not yours. It is important to get it the right way around. Start by what outcomes you think other people want and you are already on track to get better outcomes for you.
If you travel through life saying, ‘What’s in this for me’ you will get less. When you are constantly saying, ‘What’s in this for them’, amazing opportunities open up.
What is your primary outcome for attendance at the event? Who do you want to meet? Why should they want to engage with you? What’s in it for them?
I suggest your primary outcome from attending networking events is not to drown people with your fire-hose of words about you. Nor is to get a sale. Your number one outcome is to find out how you can help people, then follow up.
Don’t be trying to work out if someone will be of use to you based on a few moments spent with them at a networking event. Start with the premise that everyone is of use to the people who extend the hand of friendship first. BNI, the world’s number one referral based networking organisation calls that ‘Givers Gain’ with the words in that order for good reason.
Be present with those you meet. Be interested in other people. Don’t feign interest as a tactic but be genuinely interested in all those you spend time with, no matter how short that time may be.
Credibility takes time to establish but seconds to destroy.
To be interested in someone else means asking questions that are relevant to them and you can only ask relevant questions if you have planned ahead.
So what is your plan for networking? The list is a lot longer than this but here’s food for thought:
- What credibility have you planned to create at the networking event you intend to attend?
- Have you got a plan?
- What research have you done in the time leading up to the event?
- Do you know who will be there?
- How many contacts will you make?
- What will you say to them?
- Will you dress for success or just make a lifestyle choice?
- Will you spend more time with people you already know instead of striking up conversations with those you don’t know yet?
- What is in your diary for the day after the event?
- Have you set aside time to follow up with those you will meet?
Never make assumptions about the person you are talking with. Everyone has friends, colleagues, associates, clients, suppliers and relations, and any one of them might be just the right person you need to speak with. Any one of them has their own contact sphere; how will you get access to that if you assume the person you have just met may not be in the market for what you do?
Network the smart way.
You do the work to get the network working.
Get organised. When meeting people, don’t rely on memory to recall what was said, jot down a few notes in a pocket book or discreetly on the back of their business card to remind you of who they are and what you talked about. Then follow up as soon as you promised you would. Top tip… business cards may have special finishes on which most ink will smudge. Arm yourself with a fine tipped CD writer pen. The ink dries instantly and does not rub off easily.
Whatever outcome you want ensure you are ready to ask for it at the appropriate time. If someone says, ‘how’s business’, saying, ‘well, it could always be better’ will usually press pause or stop on the establishment of a relationship. People want to engage with positive, successful people so you could say, ‘business is great but there are a couple of companies I would love an introduction to that would really make my day…’.
Once you have established credibility, educate your network. This is not the same as selling and closing, this is about helping people to understand what you want others to look out for. If they know what you do but don’t know what you want how can they be expected to look for opportunities for you? Make it easier for them, say less about what you do and more about what you want.
Networking is complex. Networking is not a place you visit nor is it the contact list you have in your phone or the number of ‘friends’ you have on Facebook. Your network are the people with whom you have established trust and confidence. They are the people you meet every thirty days or less (every 7 days is best) and you are constantly looking for ways to support them, in turn they are constantly looking for ways to support you.
How many people are you looking out for today?
How many people will be looking out for you tomorrow?