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Entrepreneur Diaries: Why networking is not like shopping
Karen Osman, founder of writing company Travel Ink, offers top tips on effective networking.
November 11, 2013 4:03 by kippreport
People very rarely network to shop, so why is it that people try to sell furiously at events? Having lost count of the number of times people have shoved a business card at me and proceeded to explain at length about what they do, before I’ve even had a chance to take my jacket off, I decided in the early stages of my business to get some professional advice.
Why? Because I knew that while networking is one of the most useful (not to mention low-cost) ways to generate new business, I also knew I wasn’t going to have the time to go to every event in the city. So armed with nothing more than an open mind, I checked out one of The Referral Institute’s courses to learn about etiquette and the most effective ways to generate referrals through networking. Below is what I learnt, as well as some of my own tips for good measure:
Be selective, but regular
There are so many networking groups, organisations and events, as well as a multitude of online options, that it can be overwhelming. Be clear about your target market and attend events that are relevant to your industry, business or potential clientele. Choose two or three networking groups and attend regularly to develop strong relationships, as opposed to attending six or seven and attending sporadically.
We all know that feeling when we’ve had a long, stressful day at work and have committed to attending a networking event – you turn up late only to realise you don’t have any cash to pay for the entrance fee, with just a few business cards left in your pocket. As you rush off to find an ATM, you wonder if you should just forget the whole thing and go, put your feet up in front of the telly. Good preparation can change a networking experience completely. If possible, try and get a copy of the attendee list and arrive early – it’s so much easier to meet people when you don’t have to walk into a full room. Keep additional business cards in your car as a backup and think of two or three interesting topics beforehand so conversations flow easily.
Work the room
While it’s always worth going with a friend or colleague to an event, don’t make the mistake of chatting with only them. Introduce yourself to different people and spend just ten minutes with each person. If you really find it difficult to network, set mini goals for yourself, such as ‘I will meet five people before I leave’, and you will often exceed that. If you want to continue conservations, swap business cards and arrange to meet that person at a later date. Take relevant notes or quickly jot down any action points – it will save you from struggling to remember the day after. Open-ended questions work best and while it’s tempting to only talk about you and your business, everyone loves a good listener.
You have met lots of new people and have a stash of business cards, so it’s important to make sure you follow up, ideally within 72 hours of meeting them, whether that’s dropping them an email, sending relevant info or arranging a meeting. Add the details to your database and connect with these people online through LinkedIn or your preferred social media channel. Staying in touch is key and social media is a great way to do so.
Take a starring role
Many networking organisations have voluntary positions where you can get involved at a deeper level. Taking the responsibility of such a role is a fantastic way to elevate your status and become an information point for other members and attendees. While it may take up more time, the benefits of taking a public position are ten-fold, allowing you to develop strong relationships and gain additional knowledge.
To read more of Karen Osmen’s entrepreneurial diaries for Kippreport, click here.