Managing Directors of multi-million-pound companies, owners of successful independent businesses, graduates or trainees taking their first steps onto their career paths – no matter what stage you are at in your career, you can always benefit from a strong professional network.
In fact, for many high-flying business people, their success would have been impossible without networking. According to the infamous entrepreneur, Richard Branson: “Succeeding in business is all about making connections.”
So, in an ever more connected world, how do you build a strong network of business contacts? Well, there’s only so much that can be said and done solely via social media and other online forums – it’s time to get out there! Of course, we are by no means discounting the power of online mediums such as LinkedIn. Definitely keep on connecting as these are great tools to boost and maintain your network, but face-to-face networking can really add value to your business relationships.
You may be surprised by the number of events, conferences and socials that actually take place with a business or industry focus, and these are great opportunities to build your contact base. Admittedly, for some of us, the thought of walking into a room full of strangers with the aim of trying to forge new business relationships is a daunting one.
However, if you take the leap and attend such an event, following our advice will help you become a networking pro in no time! These are also great tips that can be applied to everyday interactions and meetings with potential business contacts.
1. Take it easy
If you’re new to networking there’s nothing wrong with easing yourself into things. For example, if we’re talking events or conferences, start practising your networking skills with existing acquaintances. You can then move on to their friends/acquaintances, from which you can then progress to small events with strangers. Before you know it, walking into a big networking event will feel like second nature! The key thing is to bear in mind that, for most people, developing strong networking abilities takes time and practice. You won’t be successful every time, but keep going!
2. Get ahead of the game
Even if you’re experienced in networking, it’s always useful to do your homework ahead of an event or meeting. Who is attending? What do they do? Who do you want to speak to? What do you want to say to them? Do you have things in common? This way, you can walk into the room with a plan of action. That being said, try not to appear too rehearsed and don’t force a “Look! I’m great, you’re great, let’s do business!” pitch on anyone. Your interactions should be casual and natural at first. This is because your main aim is to build a good rapport, then the business talk can come later.
3. Follow Up
This is something that can be easily overlooked and underestimated. Remember, a little can go a long way – a simple email telling someone how nice it was to meet them and that you really like the sound of their company/product can leave a lasting impression, making sure they remember you. Additionally, this paves the way for further communication that might lead to forging a new professional relationship.
If somebody expresses interest in discussing business further with you, don’t wait for them to contact you; grab the bull by the horns and make it happen. (And after you meet, remember to thank them for their time!)
Once you gain new professional contacts, the work doesn’t stop there. You have to reach out to people to build a good business network; there’s more to it than a list of names, successful networkers have real relationships with their contacts. Drop them an email with an article they may be interested in, show them that you remember personal details about them such as family, birthday and holidays by asking about them when you see or speak to them. Share some of their recent posts on your social media pages to help promote them. There are lots of ways to stay in touch, but make sure you do.
5. Keep an open mind
Remember that everyone has something to teach you. If you find you get on with a potential contact who doesn’t work in your field or have the same level of experience as you, don’t discount them. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be a valuable contact. You may find that they can offer you advice and knowledge you hadn’t considered, or they may be ‘connectors’ who can put you in touch with the right people. Give them a chance, you might regret it if you don’t!