Love it or hate it, whether you’re a freelancer, small or large business, I believe networking should always feature in your marketing plan, however – ⚠️ spoiler alert ⚠️ – this is not a short-term strategy!
It’s very unlikely you’re going to attend one networking event and meet somebody who is looking for exactly what you’re offering and wants to place an order with you then and there but thought of as a longer-term strategy, it will bring you results.
I personally love networking and have done it for years, attending hundreds of events whether it be at hotels, businesses, charities or universities, met fantastic people and made brilliant contacts who have been a massive help & influence in my business and the companies I have worked for, I’ve also made some great friends from it too.
Networking events can vary massively (and most are now online due to the Covid pandemic), with different formats, cost, size and be sector-specific therefore you need to find what is good for you. Networking should be something you enjoy, so if standing in front of 60 strangers to deliver a 60-second pitch fills you with dread these networking events obviously aren’t for you.
I’ve tried many different formats and I personally prefer the relaxed style, where you can mingle and chat with delegates in the room, not too structured but you can still have in your mind who you might want to chat with (especially if you’ve received an attendee list prior to the event).
However much you enjoy networking, the etiquette can be a minefield!
- Trying to navigate holding your bag, drink and plate when trying to talk, all while digesting a chicken goujon at the same time.
- The bacon butties at a breakfast event, you can’t refuse can you – they’re fab (especially at Wynyard Hall I seem to remember!) but then you get the bun that’s too floury and subsequently seem to suffer from a bad case of dandruff all over your shoulder.
- How do you introduce yourself into a group of people who are avidly talking?
- You need to remove yourself from a conversation to speak with another delegate, how to do this politely though!
These are all issues you’re going to have to overcome to successfully navigate the world of networking!
For those new to networking or looking to enhance their networking techniques, I’d recommend you check out North East based company, Networking KnoWho, ran by networking guru Jeni Smith, they are a great source of information on networking and also provide training for individuals, organisations and the education sector on how to build confidence and utilise networking as a way to further your career. If you’re going to invest in networking as a strategy, make sure you’re doing it right, check out their great blogs at https://www.networkingknowho.com/blog.
So, what are the benefits of networking to you and your business?
- It allows you to help others
- Expands your support network
- Develops long-standing relationships
- You can exchange ideas
- Makes you more visible
- Opens doors to new careers
- Boosts your self-esteem
The absolute main thing I would encourage and what has worked well for me, is helping other people.
I have countless examples of people I have met through networking who I’ve chatted with, connected with on LinkedIn, engaged with on social media, facilitated introductions for and then ultimately they may have needed my services or they have referred my services to one of their contacts.
You need to remember, you’re not just networking with the people in the room, you’re also making yourself visible to their contacts too.
As I said earlier, networking shouldn’t be thought of as a short term strategy, it has taken me years to build up a large and varied network of contacts throughout the North East so don’t think this is going to be an overnight success.
How to connect in the right way
Make who you’re talking to feel important.
Find out what other people do and listen when they talk – and be interested! Everybody loves to feel important and there’s nothing worse than talking to somebody who is obviously not interested or you catch them looking around to see if there’s somebody else more relevant to them.
The first time you meet somebody at a networking event they may not even find out what you do or what your company provides – that’s fine, you know what they do and their business because you’ve listened and were interested (and made them feel important) – they will love you for it. They will walk away thinking, ‘She was really lovely, what a nice person’. The next time you see them they’ll make a beeline for you and then you can tell them what you do, remember – this is a long term strategy.
I have introduced and connected many people who have business interests or needs in common – there is absolutely nothing in this for me (other than making me feel like I’m a nice person – which everybody likes, yes?). However, when in two or three years’ time one of the people I introduced to a future client are looking for somebody to look after their social media for them, who are they going to think of? Me of course!
Try to constantly think of how you can help people in the room rather than how you can sell to them, this can be helping by giving them some advice, introducing them to a fellow contact, telling them of other networking events which may be of interest to them.
One of my recommended reads which can be related to networking is the classic from Dale Carnegie, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, this was written in the 1930s but is still so relevant today – I would really encourage anybody in the networking or sales environment to read it.
All in all, networking is something many people love to hate but it can play a large and influential part in your marketing strategy.