I have met Seán Gallagher twice recently. Ironically it was over cups of tea. Whilst networking! Seán thinks networking is akin to going to an AA meeting “Hi my name is Seán, and I am an Entrepreneur!” And everyone in the group says “Hiiiiiii Seán”.
Boy, I had to laugh at that, as sometimes that’s exactly how it feels. And just a few days ago, at a speed-networking event in Co. Cork, the MC mentioned that there were 45 people in the room selling. He then asked the question “So, who is buying?”
What a pointless exercise: going to a networking event to sell your brand, business or latest product, when everyone is there to do exactly the same thing. There is nothing more frustrating than coming home with 28 business cards in your pocket, and not knowing anything about the person behind the business.
So here are my top 10 tips for good networking practice, and are guaranteed to have you noticed and remembered:
1. Dress to impress!
I have given up wearing suits, because I wish to portray a softer image, whilst remaining professional. So I make sure my attire is pressed, clean and comfortable. Ladies, watch the high heels – they may make your legs look leaner, but networking is generally done whilst standing, for hours!
2. Smile your way there!
Whilst in the car, get yourself into a good mood and leave the car/train/bus smiling. This will carry through during your first interaction.
3. Carry minimum “stuff”
Business cards, flyers, free pens. You do not need your laptop bag, portfolio, overcoat, bottled water or handbag weighing you down whilst standing for up to 3 hours.
4. Watch what you eat and drink
It amazes me when food is supplied at such events, it’s always food that gets stuck in your teeth, or makes a horrendous mess when nibbled on. If you are starving – take a few minutes out to satisfy your hunger, then double check your teeth and breath. Do not drink if you get tipsy after a glass of wine:
5. Approach an open group initially
Don’t gate-crash a closed group. Their body language should be enough to tell you to stay away. Head to a large group where the conversation is very general, or someone who is standing alone, probably feeling nervous.
6. Introduce yourself assertively
Full eye contact, broad smile, good handshake, say your first name, then say your full name and company name. People rarely catch it the first time. If you struggle to remember names, here’s a great tip: when they are about to tell you their name, ask yourself this simple question “What is your name?” You are preparing the subconscious to receive that important piece of information.
7. Name tags
You either love them or hate them! I carry two all the time, one with just my first name, and one with my full name and coloured logo, depending on the level of formality. That allows me to cover all options.
8. Questions to ask
Some people find networking really hard, and may stumble after the initial introductions. Rather than relishing in watching your new companion fading fast, offer up some of the following questions:
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- What is your role in the company?
- What size is the company?
- What/who is your market?
- How long are you in business?
- What do you want to get out of today?
9. Tell them about you
Just because you know what you do really well, doesn’t mean that your companion does. Imagine you are explaining your service to a 9 year old – keep the language basic and to the point.
10. Follow through
Within a few working days, always follow through with any promises made. If no action was promised at the event, follow up with a very courteous e-mail, reminding the person of who you and your business are, but NO selling in your language. Instead, invite them to read a blog post or offer a free resource.
Networking is important for building relationships with the people you will meet regularly, so start slowly and build organically. It should not be felt as a necessary evil, but rather part of your marketing strategy, increasing brand awareness.
Have you a top tip you can encourage others to use? Add it as a comment below…