Everyone can use a refresher now and then on best practices for networking. These are my successful networking tips for making the most of the next opportunity you have to get out there and mingle.
The worst night of my life was a speed dating networking evening. If ever you want to remind yourself what networking should NOT be, attend one of these terrible evenings.Why was it so bad? I ended the evening with 50 business cards, random notes scribbled on each and when I looked at them a few days later I could not put a face to a single business card. I had not been able to ask questions about the people I was meeting, because the evening was all about blasting out a two minute spiel about your own business before a bell rang and the other person talked to you. None of us really engaged.So what should successful networking look like? Here are my successful networking tips that will deliver support, ideas, introductions – and new business.
1. Research and prepare
The more prepared you are, the more you can make of events.
When you are invited to your next business dinner, conference or drinks evening, check if there is a guest list – you can ring up a few days ahead. Questions you might ask:
Who is going to the event, how many people, what are they expecting?
How long is the event, what’s the format – a talk, questions, drinks and how much time for networking?
Is there a guest list?
2. Who do you want to do business with?
Check out the guest list. Which companies would you like to work with – what might they need that you could help them with? Have you done any projects in similar companies?
Look up guests on LinkedIn – these days you will typically find around 80% are on it. Look out for:
- How do they describe their role? Can you spot their challenges?
- Where did they go to school or university – any common bonds?
- Is LinkedIn showing mutual contacts?
Jot down notes and keep them as a reminder just before you attend.
3. Target five people
From all this research, produce a target list of five companies who you would like as clients – you need a few extra in hand to cover networking events with no-shows. If someone you really wanted to meet doesn’t show, you may be able to ask the host to introduce you later.
4. Set yourself a target for the event
What is realistic to achieve from the evening? This is networking, not a sales pitch. Your goal may be to set up a coffee, invite a target to a corporate event you are holding, or help them with an introduction to someone who could be useful for them.
5. Be interested in others
You are now ready for the event. You know who you want to meet and what you want out of it. Keep that in mind.
Find the people you want to meet and try some of these conversation openers:
- I think I saw an article that your company is expanding into China – is that proving exciting or challenging?
- I’m really keen to understand more about sustainability in the retail sector.
Be interested in them. Ask good, relevant questions. Listen for problems they are having and if you have experience, share thoughts that might help them – or your introductions.
6. Listen for opportunities
Be interested in the conversation. Don’t worry about talking about what you do – you want as much information from them as you can get
Lots of people focus on handing out cards to everyone they can – but it is more important to get cards from others. You are then in control of ensuring you can follow up with them.
8. Follow up
Serious net-workers go home from an event, get out their laptop and follow up on all the conversations that evening. If you said you were going to connect on LinkedIn, then do; or if you said you would send a copy of research or introduce them to someone. Thank them for any advice, set up a coffee – but follow up.
9. Check out if they have a blog and are on Twitter
You may find Twitter addresses on a business card, or details of a blog they write. Or their LinkedIn profile often has links to their social media. Check out their profiles and start following – but do make sure they are professional in these media. You don’t want to damage your reputation if they are posting very personal or unpleasant comments – you would be surprised how often people have ‘unexpected’ profiles. Equally, make sure your own profiles are up to scratch – tips on personal branding in social media in this blog.
Subscribe to their blog and leave occasional comments – add insights to what they have said. These will all be noticed and appreciated, provided you don’t become a stalker!
10. Stay in touch
Set up a system to stay in touch – a note on your calendar or another system. Watch out for anything they post on LinkedIn and look for opportunities to comment, share or congratulate. Email a link to a useful article for them. Get to know them, get them to trust you, build the relationship – and ensure you are front of mind when they are ready to place business.
If you want to read more on successful networking tips, here is a blog we rate (think we agree on most points!)
- Meredith Levinson – 12 networking tips for shy people