In the corporate world, the common consensus surrounding networking is that it’s more of a burden than a blessing. Making small talk, exchanging business cards and putting time into relationships that never seem to go anywhere – it makes sense that people tend to view networking as a waste of time. However, the issue may not lie within networking itself. Perhaps, it is how we are going about networking that is the true problem. After all, a recent survey by Virgin Media stated that 95% of people viewed face-to-face meetings as essential for fostering long-term business relationships. So, if that many of us understand networking’s importance, why are we so opposed?
The answer is likely due to the way we are networking and the strategies we are using. Unfortunately, networking isn’t something that is often taught, and thus it is left to business owners and employees alike to quite literally navigate their way through the crowd. Whilst this makes for a great learning curve, it doesn’t necessarily pave way to success. Despite not receiving the results hoped for from the constant schmoozing, if an individual has never had anything to compare their networking strategies to, they’re not going to assume that networking mistakes are being made. The tips listed below are useful tools to evaluate how you are networking to ensure it is as successful and worth your time as possible.
- Establish the basics
Establishing the core components of the message you are relaying when networking will go a very long way in guaranteeing successful networking. The simplest things such as your name, your company’s name and your position within the company are what make up the first impression. If these things are done right and confidently, manoeuvring the conversation into deeper topics is made much easier due to the confident and thought-out introduction.
On a more personal level, analysing key questions and sticking to small personal goals can ensure you remain attentive and result oriented whilst you are networking. A thorough understanding of what you can offer, what you want to achieve by networking, where you see your business going etc. will ensure you are getting the absolute most out of each meeting. Establishing the very basic elements of who you are and what you want in relation to the other person will ensure that you have a direct and focused approach to fostering business relationships – eliminating the chance for a missed connection and wasted time.
- Prioritise key relationships & people of interest
As much as it is stressed that all business relationships, whether they be good or bad, are important – there is no denying that some relationships are more important than others. If you have a key relationship that you know requires grooming, make it a priority to continually be putting time and effort into that relationship. It is imperative that you continue to strengthen the bonds you already have, and don’t become distracted by the illusion of opportunity that surrounds you in a standard networking environment.
If you have a particular person whom you know could provide key opportunities for you and your business, they must be of importance to you when networking. Understand the people who can best tend to your needs and invest as much time in them as you would for your already well established relationships.
- Keep the balance
Maintain a conversational equilibrium. Offer up as much of yourself as the other person, no more, no less. You want to present yourself as an equal and maintain this fact. It is only very rarely that it will benefit you to submit or dominate in the conversation. Assure you are contributing to the conversation equally, and neither one of you is overshadowing the conversation with ego, bravado or showmanship.
Maintaining this equilibrium will make forging a strong and lasting relationship much easier. Intense intimidation will scare them off, and excessive agreeability doesn’t allow you and your potential to be taken seriously.
- Follow up
Get that second meeting. If you want to create strong business relationships through networking, you need to be seen as both proactive and reliable. If you agreed to call an individual sometime next week after first meeting, call them. If you were keen to chat but made no plans to meet up again, don’t hesitate to call up that missed connection and arrange a second meeting. You can’t afford to miss potential business opportunities due to lack of follow-through.
A courtesy follow up call or email thanking them for their time and a ‘nice to meet you’ – even if you only met once briefly – is a great way to solidify and foster a relationship. Regardless of whether the individual was a ‘person of interest’ or not, the short amount of time it takes to send through that message is worth it. Even if nothing comes of it, the worst-case scenario is that the relationship doesn’t grow, and the best is that they have a strong positive impression of you that they could pass on to others in their field. You never know if that relationship may come in handy someday.
- Use all avenues available to you
Whether it be social media, conferences, fund raising events – use every avenue available to you to develop and seek out those key relationships. Don’t underestimate where you will find a great relationship, and don’t limit yourself to certain platforms. Success when networking is all about having an open mind. Don’t shut down any opportunity that comes your way, even if it’s as simple as how you go about finding those opportunities.