Bloody Networking!! Ok, you’re in a big room casting an eye around. It said 8 am for 8.30 am but being the -kind-of-person-you-are, you got there bang on 8. There were only two other people there then.
And you were stressing a bit about how much you’ve got on back at work.
You told yourself you needed to get back out there and do some networking. But… bloody networking? It’s not real work, is it?
Now there are five other people. But three of them look like schoolteachers, one looks bored and the other you half-recognise, but you don’t know where from.
I could be doing some proper work, you think. But the coffee is ok – well a bit better than ok truth be told – and you’re eyeing up those tasty-looking pastries…
Gradually the room fills. There are some familiar faces. That freelance designer bloke – he’s alright, that copywriter with the faint Aussie accent – met him a couple of times. But then… that marketing company! You do a double-take and then a body swerve. That bloody marketing agency; they didn’t do ANYTHING!
At 8.30 am someone stands up at the front and says a few words. “Thanks for coming blah blah blah. Now there’s going to be more ‘free networking’”. You have a chat with a couple of nice folks, exchange business cards then hotfoot it out of there to get back and do some proper work.
Early afternoon. You feel you wasted a chunk of your morning at the networking event. But you’re not going to give up just yet because you know some people get a lot out of it.
You look at your diary. You’d pencilled-in another networking event next week. There’s got to be more to it than this, you think.
Making the Most Of Networking
Straight after that last networking event, you were ready to give up… again. But then you spoke to a few people who do this kind of thing and do it well. This time you’re more organised and you’re going with a plan.
You checked that it’s not just ‘open networking’. There is a presentation or focus. You also found out that everyone gets the opportunity to take the floor for a minute to tell people what they do.
You wrote out your 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ and have tested it at home. Your partner reckons you’ve ‘nailed it’. It describes your business and what you do perfectly.
You’ve been checking on Eventbrite and other places for these events. At this stage you’re only going to early morning or evening events, so they don’t eat too much into your day.
You’re taking business cards, but you’re not going to be handing them out to everyone and returning with a stack of other people’s, struggling to remember who‘s who. You’re aiming for three meaningful conversations, maybe four. As well as swapping business cards you’re going to connect on LinkedIn.
You’re going to connect on a professional and personal level. You know that conversations with people with similar interests will flow more easily, so you’re going to work out what you’ve got in common. It could be football, a particular town in the Algarve you both know, a shared passion for Tarantino films perhaps. You’re going to find something.
You know it’s unlikely you’re going to come back with any immediate prospect of new business, but you realise this is a slow burn.
To get the most out of this networking thing you’re going to be more outgoing, you’re going to have to identify things you have in common with people. People like doing business with people they like. And you’re going to have to give something if you want something back. Really successful networking comes through genuine connections.
The Benefits of a Good Networking
Go to structured events, don’t try to talk to everybody, make genuine connections, be prepared to give as well as expecting to get.
A lot of people give up on networking events because “it’s not working”. They’ve invested a lot of time and haven’t seen a return in terms of increased business or client enquiries. It’s a slow burn though.
In time you’ll find that people you met at networking events enter a kind of self-selecting funnel. You’ll end up with a core group of people you trust, work with, work for, provide work to and recommend to others. Eventually, you’ll have to remind yourself how you met. Your network also includes former work colleagues, clients and people you’ve met socially as well as those you met at networking events. And like the person who met their partner online, once you’ve built a good relationship with them, you’ll forget the perhaps contrived circumstances in which you met.
There are numerous benefits in having a good professional network. For small businesses and sole traders, you have trusted people to bounce ideas off. Sometimes when you’re absorbed in something, you might not be able to see the woods for the trees. People in your network can tell you when you go off track. Trusted people in your network will let you let off some steam – and your partner or family will silently thank them!
Inevitably your network will include people who do similar types of work. You can compare experiences, talk pricing, talk new technologies and how to keep your skills up-to-date. Don’t view them as competitors. View them as colleagues. You might end up collaborating with them on something or sharing a project.
Others in your network will recommend you to people, they’ll be your champions.
Bloody Networking Summary
A good network leads to more opportunities and more business. Don’t overthink how you build your network or how long it takes; the long-term benefits are massive.