The 8 Commandments of Business Networking
Business networking is like Marmite: Some people love it, some hate it. Either way, it’s the best way to build strong professional relationships. From industry conferences, to networking breakfasts, there are loads of opportunities to meet new people, and you should be making the most of them.
If you’re new to the networking scene and want to dip your toe in, you need to be clued up on networking etiquette. Get it right and you could leave the event with some powerful business allies. Get it wrong and your reputation could end up in tatters.
As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Follow these 8 networking commandments to ensure it’s a great one:
1. Do your pre-event homework
If you know you’re going to be attending a networking event after work, don’t wait until 5.30pm to think about who might be attending. Contact the organiser in advance and ask for a copy of the guest list. Then hit LinkedIn. Get the lowdown on all the attendees, speakers, and the host. Figure out who you want to approach, why, and what you want to get out of the meetings. The more prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of it.
2. Arrive early
It may seem counter-intuitive but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than being fashionably late, especially if you’re nervous. It’ll be calmer and quieter at the start and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s the ideal time to home in on the people you want one-on-ones with.
3. Ditch the pitch
Have you ever met someone and within minutes, they tried to sell you something? Annoying isn’t it? You don’t like it, and neither do other people. So, don’t be that person. The point of networking is to make personal connections that can turn into beneficial professional relationships. You don’t want to scare people off by launching into a business proposal right off the bat. If the conversation does turn to work and the other person asks, you can ease your way into a pitch. But not before they ask.
4. Work out your elevator pitch in advance
When the conversation does turn to you and your business, be ready with your elevator pitch. This is a 30-second overview of your business, products, and services. You’ll only have a short amount of time to make an impression, especially with someone who everyone else wants to meet. So, keep your pitch short and memorable. Knowing exactly what you want to say will ensure you don’t fumble, go blank, or say something irrelevant.
5. Give to receive
Networking is not about what people can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them. Focus the conversation on them. Ask open-ended questions about them and their business, listen, and think about how you can help them. It’s all about reciprocity.
In his book Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini talks about the 6 principles of persuasion. The first one is reciprocity, which is the impulse we feel to return the favour after we’ve been helped by someone. This applies to business networking too. If you introduce two people at an event and they hit it off, personally or professionally, they’ll be eternally grateful to you. The likelihood is, they’ll go out of their way to help you in return.
Go to your next networking event with this attitude and you’ll make friends in no time.
6. Make a graceful exit
When you’re ready to move on to the next attendee, shake hands and say, ‘it’s been so nice to spend a few minutes getting to know you’. If you want to pursue the relationship outside of the event, tell them you’ll be in contact to arrange a coffee. Then move on. Bonus tip: Make a note of any post-event actions you need to take on the back of people’s business cards.
7. Don’t forget body language
If you look miserable or distracted, no-one’s going to strike up a conversation with you. Even if it feels weird, smile as you walk around the room. Look people in the eye, nod to acknowledge them, and be sure not to cross your arms. Stand tall and keep your shoulders back. Sending out positive vibes will work in your favour.
8. Follow up, fast
How long do you wait before contacting someone you’ve met? A week? A month? Never? Send a LinkedIn message the next day saying it was great to meet them. Make sure to follow-up on where you left the conversation as soon as possible. That might mean introducing them to someone in your network, sending them some information, or reminding them of the help you needed.
As with anything else in life, practice makes perfect. The more events you go to, the easier they’ll get.