In this article I want to share my tips on how to maximise your investment in your networking efforts. January is a natural time to reset and go back to basics, so I’m continuing that theme by looking at what networking really is, and how to get the most out of it.

“The first step in learning how to network effectively is to stop thinking of it as networking. Networking is a cold way of saying what it really is – relationship building.” Unknown

In that respect, networking is just business-speak for getting together with fellow business owners to catch up with how they’re doing, listen to their stories of woe or success and perhaps offer a thought or word of advice, support and encouragement. It’s making business friends that you can one day call upon for help. But how do we make friends as adults, in the absence of those childhood toys and games?

Of course, we know there are various reasons why people network. Is it to find new leads? Is it to build relationships or socialise? Is it to collaborate with someone? Is it to find a supplier? Is it to obtain some advice from a trusted source. So why do you network?

In networking, first impressions count

It is said that first impressions are created in 3-7 seconds!

It might seem obvious when it’s seen written down, but to begin a successful networking journey, you need to make a good first impression, and you do that by hitting the following buttons:

Comfort zone – Dress according to your profession. You don’t have to wear a suit or heels if you’re in the creative space or service industry for example… If you feel comfortable, that will come across in your manner.

Business cards – Be prepared with business cards or ready to make LinkedIn connections in the room.

Fish in the right pond – make sure you’re happy to be in the room and that you’re not aiming too high or too low for your business model.

Conversations easily start in the coffee queue – It’s OK to ‘eavesdrop’ and join in another conversation, it’s also really nice to compliment someone on something you notice.

2 ears 1 mouth – We have more ears than mouths so we can listen more than we talk. But it might be useful to have some icebreakers in the back of your mind in case of conversation lulls.

Approach the approachable – If you see a group of people talking together in a tight circle, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to break in on their conversation and may feel excluded on the periphery. Approach an open group, and when in a group yourself, be mindful of not turning your back on someone else.

And on that note…

How to join a conversation

These tips should help you join that open group without making a nuisance of yourself!

  • Wait for a good time to catch someone’s eye
  • When someone acknowledges you, that’s your queue to say hello and start chatting. Try to introduce yourself early on if the conversation allows
  • You could try making a noise to gain attention if there’s something you’d like to contribute before the topic changes
  • Be polite and have a reason for being there. It’s a good idea to share that reason with others as an icebreaker. For example, ‘Hello, I am sorry to interrupt. I am just trying to meet people here and just wanted to quickly introduce myself.’ Or ‘I came to meet a few new faces, so do you mind if I join you?’ And one I really like, ‘Thanks for letting me interrupt, I’m Mike by the way…’

But what if the conversation isn’t one you want to be part of any longer, or it’s run it’s course and you’re ready to move on?

How do you exit a networking conversation?

The thing to do here is to leave the chat politely, without being thought of as a card-spreader… Remember, first impressions count.

  • A fresh coffee, a toilet break, spotting someone you ‘really must talk to’ are all really good ways to swiftly exit a conversation
  • Ask for a business card and end the conversation with a promise to connect via LinkedIn or email – but only if you intend to do so
  • Ask what they have going on this week or at the weekend and bring the conversation to a close by wishing them well with those plans. You never know, this one might kickstart another interesting chat!

OK, so you’re comfortable with moving in and out of conversations now, but how do you know which conversations to be in?

Who are you targeting?

Targeting can sound like such a harsh word when it refers to building relationships, but to make networking work for you, you do need to make sure you’re in the right conversations with the right people. Because, although we’re building relationships, the ultimate goal is to build your business through those relationships.

  • Set an objective for the meeting – Why are you networking?
  • With a clear objective you can measure the return following your meeting/s
  • Get an invite to a meeting and ask your contact to introduce you to your targets
  • Check the guest list and look for people in your target audience, according to your objective
  • Be prepared to speak to people! Can you talk about your value proposition, differentiator and USPs with confidence and clarity?
  • Have you got a 60 seconds prepared to deliver without notes? Make sure it’s relevant to your target and objectives for the meeting.

And that’s it! Networking – done

Or is it? The networking doesn’t end when the meeting ends… Then come the follow ups and online connections.

  • Follow through with your promises to connect or make further introductions
  • If you want to extend your networking efforts online, use LinkedIn and always mention the meeting in your connection message as an aide memoire to you both
  • Only suggest a 1:1 meeting if you’re fully invested in that relationship
  • Review your conversations or visit their profiles before the next meeting so you can confidently contribute to the next conversation
  • Review your objectives, investment and returns – is your networking working?
  • And don’t forget, networking is not just about events, visit the online arena.

Remember, networking is an investment

My final thought on networking is this… You have to invest in it to make it work. Whether that’s money in the form of meeting fees or membership, time to go and follow up, and headspace to think of others throughout your month, you have to put the effort in if you expect to get a return.

So, if your first meeting didn’t feel quite right, go back a second time to check if your first impression was correct, move on to the next organisation to see how that feels and eventually you’ll find a group where you feel comfortable, have a good reputation and can build great business relationships, and sometimes real friendships too.

Make networking work for you – It’s worth the investment.

And, if you’d like to connect with me, you’ll find me on LinkedIn, or we can book a 1:1 chat.

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