When the mechanics of operating a business consume our time and energy, it can be easy to forget the soft skills of networking. Staying connected to faces in the industry and building relationships with other entrepreneurs is a vital part of growing your business, but it’s also one area we easily compromise. In the busyness of our daily routine, we make less and less time to network and stay connected in a professional context. For small businesses and solopreneurs, here is our guide to helping you strike a conversation, make an impression and reignite the art of networking.
What is networking?
We’re all social beings that need human-to-human connection to flourish. Similarly, networking is simply the process of connecting with others in a commercial context. It’s relationship building and intentional conversing to further your professional network.
Networking is typically attached to a social element, but it’s more than just a monthly event, and with a little practice and a lot of intention, a business lunch or a walk in the park can be utilised as a way to outreach and build your network.
Seven essential successful networking tips
1. Realign your expectations
It’s easy to adopt a simplistic view of networking and expect immediate results in the form of a new client or investor. Start by reassessing your motivations and ask yourself, am I here to sign a contract or to progress my business?
In reality, networking is less about a commercial deal than it is about providing an organic way to set your business up for future success. Gone are the days of collecting as many business cards as you can – rather than expecting an immediate outcome, realign your goals and expectations. The value of a relationship should be more than monetary so always network to build relationships that are authentic rather than setting out to find leads or contacts – always choose quality over quantity.
2. Invest before you ask
Successful networking requires a willingness to give. Don’t plunge into an introduction with an appetite to gain as much as you can – selfishness is not subtle and will always leave a sour impression on your prospective networks. Learn to take an interest in the success of others and demonstrate a genuine curiosity in the other person. Look out for ways to invest in the other person first because when you take the time to hear someone else’s story, you’ll find opportunities to have a genuine conversation. This will always leave more of an impression than mundane questions about work and the weather. Remember, it’s only when you invest in someone first, will they be willing to return the favour.
3. Be a human
It can be tempting to talk about everything you know about an industry or area of business but don’t forget to be a real human and remember they’re human too. Don’t scramble through buzzwords that disengage people but seek to get to know the person behind the business and the life behind the title. Be relatable as a person first, before you bring your business into it. How? It’s simple – think about how you connect with your friends and family.
Be impressionable as a person rather than a salesman by telling stories, sharing jokes and having a little fun at a networking event or introduction.
Tip: Every time you meet a new person, aim to discover one interesting or anecdotal token that you can recall the next time you meet this person.
4. Do some groundwork
A little bit of research can go a long way in standing out amongst a group of people. If you’re at a networking event, think about the types of people you’d like to meet and do a basic Google or LinkedIn search for their name and business – start exploring the types of questions that interest you or stand outs that you can naturally include in a conversation. Commenting and asking unique questions about a previous campaign you may have seen or a particular product you like, won’t come across as intrusive but will add a worthwhile impression.
Don’t forget: Every connection can be valuable in the long run so don’t discount the young and upcoming in the industry who can prove to be worthwhile connections throughout the course of their career.
5. Be your brand
When the opportunity presents itself organically, be ready to share about your business. Rather than rehearsing an elevator pitch, speak naturally about what you do, how do you do it and why you do it. Passion is contagious and deeply engaging, going further than a rehashed mission statement.
6. Stick with what you don’t know
People will naturally gravitate to what is most familiar and comfortable, so it takes intentionality to consciously approach people dissimilar or unlike us. In a networking context, avoid seeking out the personalities most similar to you and introduce yourself to people who work in different industries, seem dissimilar to you and are at different stages of their career. Diversity is a pillar of a strong network, so don’t be afraid to branch out of your familiar mold. After all, the colourful world of business is interrelated in one way or another.
7. Gift wrapping is a must
If an introduction is like a gift, the follow-up is the bright red bow that ties the package together. It’s what sets you apart and ensures you remain on the minds of your newly cemented networks.
Effective follow-up communication also ensures the next greeting is well received so don’t skip the courteous thank you email or LinkedIn request. In your follow-up, leave an impression with a personal touch with a link to an article or restaurant review that was discussed in your conversation.
Tip: Avoid coming across as intrusive by asking someone’s preferred way of staying in touch before you say goodbye.
When an opportunity to expand your network arises, seek to connect with people by being genuine, showing an interest in others, being willing to approach different types of people and effectively following up with each interaction. Networking is a conversation so always strive for a quality connection with people you meet. Choose quality over quantity to make a truly lasting impression that will likely grow into fruitful business connections.