My first networking experience was only four months ago – back in January. Ironically, it was the same day I was due to move back into university for my second term. It was a Durham Business Group event and I was so nervous, I barely spoke to anyone. I hid behind my mum who did all the talking! However, this is where I met Nicola from Digital Sparkles. And of course, that led to a massive opportunity for me.
The latest networking event I attended was ran by Digital Leaders and was a big group discussion all about apprenticeships, taking place in the Sage offices. I signed up for this thinking it was aimed at people who wanted to be apprentices. I read through the description again after signing up and realised I had misunderstood…it was for businesses who wanted to take on apprentices! I was about to cancel my place thinking I would look like a complete idiot turning up! Last minute, however, I decided to go anyway. I had just managed to wangle my way into the Sage offices – how could I give up that opportunity?
It turned out to be a fantastic idea. I made a number of connections and had people approaching me and asking for my details! I now have connections at Sage, which could prove extremely useful in the future. Moral of the story is: show up.
There are three essential parts of networking that you have to consider:
- Is the event definitely worth your time? Is it aimed at your industry, what is the cost, and will there be interesting speakers or panels that are relevant to you? All in all, is it suitable for you and your business?
- If there is a public guest list, make a list of who you want to meet and why. Do some research on these people so you can tailor your questions towards them individually – this will definitely impress people and get the most out of your conversation.
- Make a list of the questions you want to ask and topics you want to discuss. Be prepared for conversation and prepare to keep the ball rolling. Plan to win!
- Have confidence and don’t be shy to approach people. Even something as simple as “Hi, my name is Alex and I’ve been really looking forward to meeting you!” is a perfect opener and puts forward a great impression.
- Make sure you have plenty of business cards with you. They are essential for people to follow up and get in contact with you, in order to maintain that connection. Don’t hand them out to every person you see – be selective and make genuine connections. This goes for collecting cards too! When you do collect a card, keep them safe so you can follow up.
- When conversing, make the conversation about them. This will say a lot more about you than talking about yourself, until they ask you questions. Ask them loads of questions – this is very important – and find talking points from that. Listen to their answers – you never know how they could help you or what you could do for them.
So you’ve survived the networking event and despite the nerves and slip-ups, you’re still alive! But you’re not done yet. Following up is so important if you want to maintain the connections you have just made and make them worthwhile.
- Always follow up with an email telling them what you enjoyed discussing, what you can offer or what they could be interested in doing. What image do you want to leave with them?
- It’s also a great idea to connect on LinkedIn. Attach a personal note saying where you met them and what you discussed and what you’re interested in doing.
- My last point – which is so important to remember – is to give first and expect nothing in return. You’re probably thinking “Then what’s the point of this whole networking thing?!” The more you give, the better your reputation gets, and people will want to do something for you in return. It’s an investment that I can promise you will pay off. Build your reputation now, expect results later.
If you follow these steps, you will see results from your networking efforts! Remember that it’s not about how big your network is, but the quality of the individuals in it.