Not everyone finds it easy to walk into a crowded room and introduce themselves to strangers. Nor does everyone understand how to navigate their way around a business social network without making an etiquette faux pas.
If you’re one of these people who finds the whole business of networking a bit overwhelming and more than a bit terrifying, here are a few fail-safe tips to get you started, whether you’re looking for your first job, promoting your business or climbing the career ladder.
- Prepare a pitch. You should never go straight into a business networking scenario with guns blazing, shouting about yourself or your business to anyone within earshot. This is a great way to put people off. You should, however, prepare a short pitch so if anyone does ask what you do, you’re ready to take full advantage of the opportunity.
- Give as well as take – business networking is a two-way street. You should aim to form mutually beneficial relationships where knowledge and contacts are shared. It goes without saying that people are more likely to help you if they think you’ll return the favour.
- Have genuine conversations, don’t just work the room (or the LinkedIn group, Clubhouse event etc.). Attend a conference or talk on a business-related subject that you know a lot about or one that you need to know about, or join an online discussion group. You’ll all have a lot to talk about.
- If you’re attending a networking event, research the attendees before you go. Is there anyone you would benefit from connecting with? Make a list of 2-3 people with a few notes about them so when you do introduce yourself, you’ve got some conversation starters. Concentrate on building a rapport and exchanging details rather than asking for favours straight away.
- Take notes throughout networking events on the people you meet and leave reminders for yourself about what you talked about and what you need to follow up on. Send a quick message to everyone the next day saying it was great to meet them and briefly touch upon what you discussed – it will keep you fresh in their minds too.
- “Consistency is key,” says Operations Director for The Alternative Board UK, Jo Clarkson. “If you only contact your network when you want something, your calls will become less and less welcome. Share a great article with your list of contacts or just send over an email to say hello every now and again. That way, when you need your network, they’ll recognize your name and be happy to help.”
- Your online professional profiles also need to reflect your own value. You’re more likely to get responses from people if you have an expertly curated LinkedIn profile and you’re an active member of your groups, posting regular content and getting involved in the community.