JayKay Events

19 April 2017

Networking – what is it exactly?

Some people think it’s just an opportunity for a natter and a hot meal – especially people who work on their own. This, for sure, is one of the reasons why I network. Since becoming self employed I miss the noise and bustle of a busy office and I’ve met some fantastic people through networking, who have become friends as well as business contacts.

The Business Dictionary gives this excellent definition of networking: “Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question ‘How can I help?’ and not ‘What can I get?’.”

It is easy to spend a small fortune on networking and hard to evaluate the ROI for your business, so it’s important to get the most out of every meeting you attend.

Following these Top Tips can help you get the most out of your networking.

1. Try before you buy

If you are new to networking, go to a few different meetings to get a feel for which seem right for you. There is so much choice out there it can seem rather daunting, so try thinking about:

  1. Was the meeting well attended?
  2. Were you made to feel welcome?
  3. Is the location right?
  4. Is there a membership fee or is it ‘pay as you go’?

It makes sense to attend a meeting at least twice before deciding whether to continue going regularly. Networking groups that require you to pay a membership subscription generally allow a visitor to attend a couple of times before joining.

2. Don’t be a wallflower

It can often feel daunting when entering a room full of strangers. It can seem as if everyone already knows each other, and the temptation to stand at the side can be appealing.

But remember, everyone was new once and a good event organiser will be warm and welcoming and put you at your ease.

Get a drink, smile and remember these were the occasions for which small talk was created! I have been to many an event where I have started conversations with the same opening sentence: “Isn’t the weather dreadful…”, “I can’t believe this traffic…”, “What a lovely venue…” Before you know it, you’ll be chatting easily, and there’s your first connection made.

3. Keep the group open

Once you’ve found a group of people to talk to during the open networking before the main event starts, try to stand in a semi-circle rather than in a closed group to keep a gap available for someone else to join you. Talking to as many people at the start of the meeting can be invaluable because once you’re all seated you may not get another chance to talk to anyone not on your table.

4. Keep your business cards to hand

Keeping your business cards to hand rather than in your handbag or on the table means that as soon as someone asks for your card, or you wish to offer your card to a new contact, you don’t have to disappear off. As you gather business cards, it’s often useful to write on the cards which meeting you met the contact at and the date. This will help with your follow up (see Tip 8).

5. Listen and be interested

Nobody wants to be talked at (see Tip 6). The conversations you have should be two-way. Although you are probably eager to tell everyone how fantastic your business is, those you are speaking with will think you are amazing if you show an interest in their business and ask pertinent questions about what they do before talking about yourself.

When I host a networking table I always make sure I ask everyone on my table something about their business. This shows I have listened to what they have to say, I am interested in what they have to offer and I have engaged with them. This often leads to positive feedback from attendees, and I have been recommended on many an occasion because of it.

6. Learn to park

Despite it being important to be enquiring and interested in other people’s business (see Tip 5) there is always one person who monopolises the conversation, who has no interest in you but wants to bore you rigid about themselves. These are the ones to ‘park’, but it must be done carefully so they don’t realise what you’re doing.

The trick is to firstly make sure you are standing in an open circle (see Tip 3) so someone else might join you. If they do, make your excuses “Oh, I must just catch up with…”, “Excuse me a moment…” And you’ve escaped!

If no one joins you, try (subtley!) looking around for someone to introduce to your little group and then make your excuses.

If all this fails, invite them to join you at the coffee station and then excuse yourself for a comfort break before the meeting begins.

If done well, the person you are trying to park will not realise what you are doing. Make sure you’re not the one being parked!

7. Prepare your introduction

Different groups network in different ways. Some will have everyone introduce themselves and their business to the entire group in a 1 – 2 minute slot, others will split the guests up into tables of 8 – 10 and you will introduce yourself to your table.

Preparing what you are going to say in advance is key, and if you are nervous, reading from a sheet is no problem. Try including:

  1. concise information – don’t waffle
  2. be clear about what your business involves
  3. explain what you can do for those in the room
  4. mention who you are looking to work with
  5. explain why you want to network
8. Record your new connections

I use a spreadsheet that I keep updated with where I met the contact and which geographical area they cover so when I send details of my latest events out I don’t send them irrelevant information.

There are a number of CRM (customer relationship management) systems out there which can help you keep track of all your contacts.

9. Do your follow up

Your networking shouldn’t end at the close of the meeting but continue with carrying out your follow up. This is basically emailing the contacts made at the meeting, both new contacts and those you have met a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time.

It’s nice to include

  1. their name e.g. Dear John
  2. how lovely it was to meet them/see them again
  3. how you would like to meet up for a coffee to see how you could work together (if applicable)
  4. give them a bit more information about what you could do for them, tailoring it to their business.

DO NOT DO A MASS NON-PERSONAL EMAIL TO EVERYONE YOU MET. This is an instant turn-off and if your new contact can’t be bothered to email you personally, how will they ever be bothered to refer you or build a relationship with you?

No one walks away from their first meeting with new sales leads or guaranteed businesses.

Networking is about making new connections and building relationships. People work with people they like and nurturing a mutual interest and connection is vital.

I hope you have found these tips useful. If there is something you have found particularly helpful when networking, I would love to hear from you.

I organise a number of networking events and send regular updates of upcoming events to my mailing list. If you would like to be added to the mailing list please email me at judith.kenyon@jaykayevents.co.uk. To see the full list of events available please go to www.jaykayevents.co.uk/upcoming-events

To book a place at any of the events please fill in your details plus the event name and date on my contact page www.jaykayevents.co.uk/contact-us