There’s breakfast networking, women’s networking, Chamber networking – so many ways to get out of your office and meet new people. In my area, you could network three times a day, five days a week and still miss some meetings! There are formal meetings with strict rules and informal get-togethers over a coffee. Whichever you prefer there’s a group for you. But what is effective networking?
If you’re new to networking it can be a bit nerve-wracking but remember everyone started their own networking journey in the same boat. A good host will make you feel at ease and introduce you to others during the mingling time at the beginning of the meeting.
If you are an accomplished networker this blog post will show you how to network effectively by making better use of the time. It will show you ways to deepen your relationships with other members and review the reasons you started networking in the first place. Maybe it will reenergise your enthusiasm for the meetings.
It's all about the preparation
If you're going to a new group for the first time, it’s worthwhile doing some research before you go. The website should give you an indication of the format of the meetings and what’s required of each member. Make a note of the location and plan your route. There’s nothing worse than being in a fluster when you arrive having gone to the wrong place, driven round in circles and ended up at the far end of the car park!
I would highly recommend having a telephone conversation with the organiser in advance to see if there is any theme for the upcoming meeting. Maybe someone is giving a talk or members are bringing in a prop, a specific question or challenge they’d like feedback on from the group. Speaking to the group’s host will allow you to know at least one person better, helping you to break the ice on the day.
Whether you're new to the group or a long-standing member, have your business cards and any literature ready and prepare your ‘One Minute’. Most networking groups give everyone the opportunity to say a few words during the meeting to the assembled audience.
Make your mini promotion, one-minute speech punchy. Stick to a specific part of your business – particular product or service and talk about how it helps your customer or client. Make it relate to the people in the room. For example: a printer might hold up a flyer they've printed for a restaurant and talk about the main factors they took into account when selecting the size and weight of the paper, the numbers to be printed, using both sides of the leaflet and how long it took from artwork to delivery. Add in a one-line testimonial from the happy client and the one minute brings to life the printer’s value proposition.
Can you write several one-minutes to keep you going for the next few month's?
If possible do some research on the other members before the meeting. Visit their websites and learn a little more information about a few of them. Visit their LinkedIn profiles to view profile pictures and read more about their backgrounds. Follow them on other social media platforms too.
Before the meeting
Once you have been a member of a group for a while, arrange to have a 1-2-1 meeting with a couple of members – one before and one after the meeting. This makes the best use of your time. Tagging on a couple of strategically planned meetings helps you leverage your membership.
A 1-2-1 meeting helps you to find common ground with the other member. You’ll learn about their business in more detail and have the opportunity to present an aspect of your own business. Share the time available evenly and make a point of being specific about the help you need. Whether it's an introduction to a specific person or guidance on a particular topic, make your request crystal clear.
Agree to follow up by email or phone by a specific date and make a note of any details. If something isn’t clear you can always get in touch at a later time. Ensure you get explicit agreement for you to use their contact details. This isn’t an opportunity to add them to your newsletter list at this stage, although that may come in time.
During the meeting
Effective networking means starting or joining conversations before the formal part of the meeting starts usually over a cuppa. This can be quite daunting if you don’t know anyone. Although in a well-run networking group everyone should be made to feel welcome and if you don’t then maybe this group isn’t right for you. I’ve heard many stories about disastrous events so don’t take a frosty reception personally.
In the main, it’s better to listen than to speak and preferable to ask open-ended questions than to hold forth. If you’ve done your research in advance preparing a few questions beforehand should make fitting in so much easier.
When it’s time for the formal part of the meeting check your phone is off, find your one-minute and paper and pen for taking notes. Taking notes helps if your concentration drops off and you find your mind drifting. Note down two people you would like to follow up with at the next meeting.
After the meeting
Once the meeting is finished, meet your next 1-2-1 member and repeat the same process as you did earlier in the day. Whilst you might feel exhausted by the time you return to your office, this routine will pay off in the long run.
Effective networking means Follow up
Effective networking is all about the follow-up. And follow up quickly while ideas are fresh in your mind. Send a ‘thank-you' to the organiser, follow up emails to the 1-2-1 associates you met with a simple list of agreed action points. Email the next members you’d like to meet and any others whom you had ideas for when they gave their one-minute speeches.
Effective networking is all about the preparation and follow up. It’s not about rocking up and winging it. You can use a relaxed approach for informal networking but in my experience you get out of it what you put in.
Let me know which networking groups you’re a member of and any unusual experiences.