Tips for successful networking
In my ‘Reasons to go networking’ blog I shared some very viable reasons to dip your toe in the proverbial networking pool. If you’ve already made a splash in your local networking arena – well done! You get your 25 meter badge. But let’s face it, when you go networking you’re investing your own precious time, so you want to aim a little further. That’s why I’m going to share what you need to do to achieve your bronze, silver and gold networking survival awards.
I apologise in advance for the swimming analogies - it’s just (at the time of writing) it’s thirty degrees out there and I’m dreaming of being by a pool rather than at my computer!
Bronze networking survival award
So, you achieved your 25 meter badge by taking the plunge and turning up on time to the networking event of your choice. To get your bronze networking survival badge you’re going to have do a little bit more.
Firstly, let’s look at what you’re wearing. Hopefully not a swim suit! If it is, you’re taking this far too literally. If you’re attending a breakfast meeting and it’s going to be an early start, then for the love of strong coffee, get your clothes ready the night before. Rocking up in mismatched shoes may give you an ice-breaker, but first impressions count (for a LOT) and 'clown/scruff-bag' is not the impression you want to make to potential customers.
Whilst we’re on the subject of breakfast meetings, it's important to note that you have to attend networking meetings with a smile and an open mind. So - if you’re not a morning person and you struggle to string a sentence together before two cups of coffee, then ditch the idea of an early start and aim for a lunch or evening meeting instead.
Mismatched shoes aside, if you’re not sure what to wear, then my rule of thumb is wear what you’d wear to meet a client in that kind of environment. So, if it’s an evening meeting in a pub or a coffee group at a golf club, then smart/casual is ok. If it’s a breakfast or lunch in a hotel, then it’s your usual business attire.
It goes without saying that without any business cards, you’re going to be in the deep end and flailing around without anybody to throw you a life line, so fill your pockets or bag. It’s also worth enquiring whether there’s an opportunity to put up a pop-up stand or place literature anywhere. If there is, and you have marketing collateral, remember to take it with you.
Finally, to achieve your bronze award, remember to ask lots of questions. If you’re a new face, then regular members will be keen to find out all about your business. It’s very easy to forget to reciprocate and ask about theirs. Remember, you’re not there for the hard sell. Rehearse saying out loud what your business does for its customers before you go, but try not to make it sound too staged. Relax and just enjoy the conversation.
Silver networking survival award
A silver networking survivalist is a little more refined and sophisticated. You’re unlikely to get your silver award on your first foray into the pool. It takes practice, and probably some new skills. At the silver stage your armbands are now well and truly off and you’re ready to maximise the opportunities presented to you.
Firstly, if you know in advance that the meeting has a presenter, or presenters, and you think one of them might be a useful contact, then remember, Google is your friend. A bit of cyber stalking can go a long way and hopefully it will give you a nugget or two to start a conversation with.
Silver survivalists may not have armbands, but they do have balls. To gain your silver award you need to have the confidence to move on from conversations when they’re over, or you’re feeling trapped. It’s very easy to stay talking to one person, and there’s quite a lot of people who are content to do just that, so have the confidence to excuse yourself and move on. Remember it’s your time and money at stake, so get the most out of it that you can.
You also need to have the confidence not to feel pressured to signing up to a membership if you’re not sure whether it’s going to be right for you or your business. There are so many networking meetings and groups out there, and it’s important that you find one that you enjoy, and that offers the right kind of connections and support.
Gold networking survival award
Think of a gold networking technique as exiting the pool with finesse. You’re not going to lose your shorts as you clamber up the steps and you’re not going to fall back in. To obtain your gold award you’re going to finish with aplomb. In real terms, that means your work isn’t done when you leave the meeting. A gold networker will take all the business cards that they’ve obtained and log the details on whatever system they use. If you’re keeping it very simple, then at the very least, scribble the date and name of the networking meeting you met them at and any memorable notes on the card.
Before you file it away, request a connection on LinkedIn – and accompany it with a friendly ‘nice to meet you ‘ message. You might also choose to find and follow them on Twitter, and if they’re a really hot contact (and I don’t mean in the attractive sense – although maybe!?) then see if they fancy a one-to-one over a coffee. And by that, I do mean a meeting.
Finally, if you want to pass your gold badge with flying colours, then go the extra mile, and try and make some introductions. Think about the conversations that you had, and who you might know that would be a useful contact for the people you connected with.
When you’ve earned your gold badge, then it’s worth remembering that you’re qualified in networking rescue as well as survival, so that means keeping an eye out for new faces at future meetings, and making sure they aren’t left drowning in a corner on their own.