It’s fair to say that networking doesn’t come easily to everyone. While the extroverts among us might jump at every chance to meet new people, more introverted personalities usually recoil at the prospect of initiating conversations with people they don’t know.
But, whatever your gremlins (if you have them), networking is beneficial for everyone and their businesses. By networking with the right people, you could reach out to more potential clients, gain greater knowledge and understanding of industry trends and take advantage of the type of mentoring and support that comes with sharing mistakes, successes and advice.
And, if that’s not compelling enough, statistics show that 40% of prospective customers convert to new customers following an in-person meeting compared to only 16% without. There are also a few intangible benefits of networking too, such as increasing your overall confidence, generating referrals and raising your business’ profile.
So, the question is, how do you network effectively? Here are six tips to help you kick your fears and grow your professional network.
Look for online and offline networking events
While there will be plenty of conferences, trade shows and other events targeted to your industry throughout the year, it’s easy to forget about the networking opportunities available online. For example, specific LinkedIn groups could help you connect with potential clients and other influential business owners while Twitter is a great platform for participating in topical conversations relevant to your expertise. Similarly, contributing to discussions and answering questions posted on online forums could also help to raise your business’ profile as a trusted player in the field.
Approach people (or groups) with purpose
Essentially, when first impressions really count, it’s about making sure you get off on the right foot with a strong introduction. While a firm handshake makes for a good start, you could build rapport with your new connection by explaining who you are, why you are there and what you hope to learn. Similarly, when joining online groups or forums, don’t just be another number – introduce yourself and make your existence known.
Make yourself memorable
Being passive is one of the biggest barriers to effective networking because, frankly, you’re unlikely to be remembered for your nods and smiles (although they always help). Before engaging in any networking event or opportunity, be prepared with something impactful to say about yourself, your business or your industry. For example, this could be to do with your career experiences or some exciting news about things your business has in the pipeline.
Once you’ve made yourself known to new connections, ensure you stay on their radar by suggesting that you keep in touch via email, social media or future in-person catchups. After all, if you stay on the forefront of someone’s mind, they’ll be more likely to refer your services to their own contacts when the opportunity presents.
Give something back
Of course, you’ll always engage in networking opportunities with the intention of growing your connections, gaining new information or advice and hopefully landing few new clients along the way. But networking is a two-way street, which means you should be ready and willing to offer help and advice to others whenever the opportunity arises. Showing preparedness to offer something up in any networking scenario is fundamental to forming mutually respectful and meaningful new connections which could result in future favours and longer-term support.
Listen and ask questions
While this is probably more relevant for extroverted networkers, it’s important to make sure you don’t dominate conversations by talking about yourself and focussing on everything you want to learn – this isn’t likely to leave a lasting positive impression. So, be conscious of those around you by giving people the time they deserve to talk themselves. Asking questions is also a great way to show you’re interested as well as expanding the discussion for the benefit of everyone.
Consolidate your efforts by following up
The competition is usually stiff in any networking environment; after all, the more the merrier. So, to ensure you’re not quickly forgotten, take some time afterwards to follow up with your new contacts – whether via email or social media – to let them know they should reach out to you in future. Referring to aspects of your in-person conversation is also an effective way to remind them who you are and becoming more memorable.
Whether you’re an enthusiastic networker or one of the many who dread the thought, knowledge is usually key overcoming inhibitions and getting the most out of your opportunities – wherever you find them. By following these networking tips, you’ll stand a better chance of leaving a positive and lasting impression of yourself and your business.