Networking, according to Wikipedia is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures. Networking, or relationship building as I prefer to call it, can take two forms: face to face and online and I thought I would write my experiences of both over the years.
I remember, just after I was made redundant, I had already launched my business but without the comfort of a day job, I had to venture out into the business world and start building relationships. Fortunately my dear friend, Katrina, from The Marketing Lady fame, took me under her wing and recommended a few places for us to meet with like-minded business folk. Having read my favourite book for personal development and relationship building, I felt equipped to make a start.
I’d scan the room and look for individuals who were sat on their own, looking at their phones, or sipping their coffee (or even better, a cup of tea 🙂 ). I’d see plenty of groups of business owners exchanging business cards, having a conversation, having a laugh, but I wanted to connect with an individual. Why? I did it, because I have done it all my life. I can appreciate how nerve wrecking it can be to walk into a room full of strangers. I have been described as an extrovert which means walking up to a stranger is very easy for me. As I have gotten older, I actually feel that I am more of an ambivert but I digress. When I read in my favourite book that listening with empathy is a way of getting people to like you, I knew that I was on the right track.
It sounds cold and calculating doesn’t it? Be genuinely interested in people so that people like you. Be a good listener and encourage the other person to talk about themselves. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely. The thing is though, to make friends and influence people in business is a skill. It is imperative for your business and if you’re not a good listener; if you can’t be genuinely inTEArested in others, then networking is going to be a waste of your time.
Networking will end up becoming a business card collecting exercise. Talking to others about yourself; selling to the other person before they’ve got to know a little bit about you, is likely to turn people off. Let me ask you this. Do you like being sold to? Are you a fan of junk mail appearing in your letterbox or Inbox? Do you like those pop-up Ads interrupting you when you are in the middle of reading an online article? Rather annoying isn’t it? Here are a few of the other #networkingbloopers that I have experienced over the years. These are all genuine. Some of you readers may have experienced these already. I am not mayking these up. (MK is me; NB is short for Networking Blooper).
- Hi my name is […] and my business is […]. Here’s my card.’
[Thrusts business card into hand then walks off to the next victim]
- NB: So what’s your name?
MK: My name’s May King and… [NB interrupts]
NB: Hi May, so I’m [insert name] and my business is [insert business name] and I [outlines the business]
MK: [nods / smiles / listens]
NB: [10 minutes later] so yeah, that’s me, but I better go, here’s my business card. We should catch up!
[Walks off to find next victim]
- NB: Hi, my name’s [insert name] and you are?
MK: Well my first name is May King and my business is MayKing Tea.
NB: What do you do May? [I should interrupt at this conversation and ask you readers. Did you notice NB’s blunder? NB didn’t listen and didn’t call me by my first name. Yes, I know it’s an easy mistake to make but another great tip from Dale Carnegie if you want to make friends and influence people is: ‘Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language’. Back to the blooper:
MK: [as I explain what I do, NB looks over my shoulder for a better prospect. NB’s not listening, I don’t really feel like talking anymore and I’m plotting my getaway in my head as I aim to finish the conversation quickly].
- NB: So what do you do? [Yep – no hello, no introduction, launches straight in]
MK: My first name is May King and I have a business called MayKing Tea. I sell loose leaf tea sourced from around the world.
NB: That’s not going to make you much money is it? But I have a business that will make you lots of money! [Proceeds to talk about his/her network marketing proposition]
MK: [nods / smiles / listens/plots in head for quick getaway]
I have thought about doing a #networkingblooper series to recreate the funniest moments I and other business owners have had experienced in networking. Kinda like Candid Camera or You’ve Been Framed except that you don’t get £250 for sending your videos in. Maybe I will one day, but in the meantime here are a few things that you can do when you are at a networking event.
- Meet new people. At a networking event, we are all there for the same reason. Don’t be tempted to stay with the people you came to the event with. This is known as your comfort zone, and you know what happens in business if we stay in our comfort zone don’t we?
As we are all in the room with the same agenda, try and find someone on their own, smile and introduce yourself and start a conversation.
- Don’t sell. I mentioned earlier that generally as humans, we don’t like being sold to, so explain what you do, but don’t sell. If you hand over your business card, and if the person is inTEArested, they will contact you.
- Ask questions and listen. There are plenty of great lessons and principles in Dale Carnegie‘s book and this is one of them. Give the person you’re talking to, the respect that they deserve and be genuine in your questions and listen sincerely.
- Don’t interrupt, criticise or argue. This is common sense but it’s amazing how many people want to be heard and in an attempt to get their point across, they will use one of these negative actions. Remember you are at the meeting to represent your business, your brand and you want to make a good impression. Focus on the positives and ditch the negatives.
- Smile. I love this Chinese proverb: ‘A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.’ It’s amazing what can be achieved when you smile. Sharing what you do, especially if you love what you do, coupled with a smile will create a positive impression to the person you’re talking to, and we all want people to have a positive impression of ourselves and our business don’t we?
- Follow Up. This final point, I have to admit, I have made mistakes on and haven’t necessarily followed up with every person I’ve met, but we’re all human. We all make mistakes, right? If you have a Twitter profile, I’m likely to give you a shout out, as I do love Twitter. If I want to meet with you, I will connect with you, especially if you have all your social media credentials, website and email address up to date (this is extremely important). To make that first positive impression of you and your business stretch a little further, the follow up is a great habit to form. It’s the start of building a relationship with another business owner and by following up, you never know where the start of that relationship can lead your business.
There’s probably another 10, 15, 20 networking tips that I could share with you here, but I would love to hear from you. Do you have a #networkingblooper story you’d like to share? What’s your best networking tip for networking newbies? Would love to hear from you.