Recently, a number of clients have asked me how they can build their business networks.
Young professionals are really yearning to meet a mentor or to tap into their next career opportunity through one of those “organic business relationships” they often read about, but are yet to experience themselves.
My advice? The real benefits of networking are seen when there is a genuine alignment between you and the networking event you are attending.
So how do you get the most out of your next networking event?
- Create a focus. The greatest way of ensuring mutual business or personal outcomes through a networking event is to firstly assess the alignment between you, your business or product and the group. Is there real cross referral opportunity? Can you learn from others in the group? Could you also help others, or position yourself as a subject matter expert within your field? Be clear on what you are hoping to achieve. That’s not to say you should only attend events that reflect your current status quo, it means being discerning enough to identify that if you’re selling gold tiaras, maybe ditch the speed boat convention.
- Make it count. Too often people attend an event with a friend or colleague and spend most of their time in a corner talking amongst themselves. It is great to have a wingwoman, but do not use them as a social crutch. Make an effort to introduce yourself to people, learn more about them and their business. If you are going to invest the time to attend an event, make it count.
- Perfect your pitch. Ok, you have 10 seconds – go! It doesn’t matter how social and eloquent you are, meeting new people for the first time can feel very intimidating, particularly when asked the inevitable “So Sarah, what do you do?” Be prepared. All you need is 2 quick sentences that sum up who you are, what you do, what’s your unique selling point, what you want to achieve. “I specialise in digital marketing and am passionate about developing online digital strategies for small business. I currently oversee the marketing consulting arm of xyz company. My real aim is to start my own consulting business, helping start-ups to define their online presence.” Done. Now, fingers crossed there is an angel investor in the room.
- Forget the cards, build a connection. I read a quote once that said: “One great conversation outweighs collecting 10 business cards”. I couldn’t agree more! Forget about relying on the number of cards you handed out as a measure of the night’s success, no one will remember you through your 300gsm semi-matte finish with logo embossing anyway. Create real connections, find common ground and genuinely seek to understand people’s goals and needs.
- Follow up. It only takes two minutes to send a thank you email, which could result in a fabulous long term relationship. Earlier this year, I met my now business partner at a networking event for female entrepreneurs. We only spoke for 15 minutes but felt a real connection. The next day we both sent a quick thank you email. Now, we speak to each other a couple of times a week, have referred business to one another and are building a product together. Taking the time to acknowledge the connection you made really does pay off.
Final tip: The content of your thank you email is particularly important if you are following up with someone who is in a position of influence. Assume they are busy and meet lots of people. Confirm in your email how nice it was to meet them, remind them of where you met and anything specific you discussed. If they ask you to set a meeting or offer to introduce you to someone, make it happen. Following through and setting the appointment is completely up to you.