Top 100 Tips for Business – #10 Networking27-07-2017
Schmoozing, circulating, hob-nobbing, rubbing elbows.
There are many ways of describing it, but the word ‘networking’ is one that arouses a latent sense of fear in many business owners and representatives.
They know they need to do it, but many lack the confidence – and the time – or its objectives to make the most of it.
And, according to our favourite networking guru Tony Bowler, those who do wade in and have a go, often miss a trick or two.
So we asked him for his take on the ‘no-nos’ of networking, and the things anyone can try to make sure they’re getting the very most out of it.
Tony is founder of the hugely successful The Business Culture Hull networking concept. Now nearing 100 members, it is unique in blending business and social events, including art and music performances. And as well as organising get-togethers roughly every month, Tony (who we like to nickname ‘Mr Connector’) classes himself as a ‘professional networker’, spending his time looking for opportunities to connect his members, to help them build their businesses.
“The mere word networking instils fear in many people because they associate it with having to stand up in front of people and talk about themselves,” said Tony.
“But actually, this is the biggest misconception, because the main skill required is listening. To get the most out of networking, you need to think of it as being not about you, but instead what you can do for that other person.
“And actually, it’s not really even about them, but about the network of people they know.
“Launching into sales mode and talking incessantly about yourself will only switch that person off to you and they are never likely to introduce you to people they know.”
According to Tony, it’s estimated that every person in business has at least 100 people who sit behind them, and often several times more, made up of colleagues, contacts, friends and family members.
We asked him to share his tried and tested methods for reaching them.
Tony’s top tips for making fruitful business connections
- Know your stuff. The first and biggest thing is to thoroughly understand your own products and services, so that you have the confidence to speak about them and explain in 30 seconds or less what your organisation is all about. Practice delivering your ‘elevator pitch’ in 20 to 30 seconds, and doing so with passion and belief.
- Practice your pitch. The best way of making sure it is clear, concise, jargon-free and easy to understand, is to video yourself delivering it. Then watch it back and take note of your mannerisms, facial expressions and body language. You’ll be surprised by the things you pick up on and this will help you refine what you have to say to make sure it’s something people will buy into.
- Listen. What a lot of people do if someone asks them about their business, it rattle on for 20 minutes without really being clear about what it is their business does or offers. If you are one of those people, you need to learn to listen, and I mean really listen, with genuine interest. Make a point of focusing on the other person and making eye contact. Listening can be one of the most powerful ways of gaining people’s respect and trust – and can be equally damaging if you don’t do it.
- Study their card. In the same way, if someone gives you their business card, don’t just shove it into your pocket without looking at it. Study it, comment on it, feel it. Think about how much effort you have put into developing your business card and branding, and how much it means to you when someone takes the time to read it. Doing that for someone else can have a major impact on how positive a relationship you strike up with them.
- Make eye contact. According to the old saying, the eyes are a window on the soul, and that really is true. Again, looking into someone’s eyes shows genuine interest in them, builds trust and, as a consequence, will ensure you build up a rapport with them much more quickly.
- Hang in there. You should never go in expecting to get anything from anyone in your first meeting with them. It’s all about building a proper relationship with them, and that takes time. I hear a lot of people make comments at networking meetings, such as ‘I’ve already met that person so I don’t need to speak to them tonight’. However, they should really see catching up with people over and over again as a positive way of building a trusting and mutually beneficial business relationship.
- Keep an open mind. While it is important to approach your relationship building with a clear idea of what your business stands for, you should also be prepared to evolve your ideas and what you do in response to people’s feedback. One of the biggest benefits of networking, is the opportunity to learn from your peers. This might even take you in a whole new direction.
- Stay positive. Use positive words and send out positive vibes, always. Instead of talking about challenges and issues and problems, instead talk about opportunities. Smile as you speak, as this can make a world of difference to your delivery. Ultimately, people want to be uplifted and moaning at them is a sure-fire way to close the door on new relationships.
- Read the signs. It’s important to also pay attention to the body language being displayed by other people at the networking event, such as closed and open groups, and respond accordingly. For example, if a bunch of people are huddled together and there isn’t really a physical opening for you to approach their group, don’t interfere. They will usually close their group for a reason, for example because they are discussing something private.
- Move on. A lot of people fall into the trap of getting comfortable in a particular group at an event, and staying there. They might stumble across a set of people they already know, enjoy a catch up and a giggle. But if that’s you, STOP. That’s not what you’re there for. You need to be strong enough to break free of your cliques and move around from one group to another at intervals, to build up a rapport with as many people as possible.
- Do your research. Like anything in life, preparation makes perfect. Doing your research beforehand can ensure that your event attendance is much more productive. Most event organisers will be able to provide you with a list of who’s coming beforehand, so that you can study it, work out who your must-meets are on that list, and find out a bit about them, so that you’ve got good conversation-openers at the ready.
- Follow up. If you’ve bothered to go along and overcome any reticence you might have felt, it makes sense to really make the contacts you’ve gathered work as hard as possible for you. Connect with the people you’ve met again after the event, via email and platforms like LinkedIn. Tell them it’s great to get to know them and suggest you get together for a chat over a coffee, and to discuss how you might be able to help each other in the future.
- Keep a database. Your list of contacts is one of your business’s most valuable assets, and it’s important to update and manage it appropriately. Business cards are no use just thrown in a drawer. Add the details from any you gather onto your database, note down any relevant details about that person – for example, do they support Liverpool, or enjoy cycling, or have a daughter who’s heading to university? – and the kinds of things you’ve discussed, and then make sure you get in touch with them periodically.
- Choose wisely. Networking can be incredibly time consuming so it’s important that you’re strategic about the meetings you select. At the end of the day, the groups you attend are an integral part of your marketing strategy, so choose ones that reflect your personality, and are attended by the kinds of people you need to target. After visiting a few to test them out, you might even decide that virtual networking works best for you – and decide to concentrate your efforts on social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter to make connections instead., that said you still cannot beat good old fashion face to face connecting.
If you’ve found this article thought-provoking and would like to find out more about Tony and The Business Culture Hull, visit The Business Culture Hull website, or email Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the latest in our series of blogs called ‘Top 100 Business Tips’, dedicated to sharing business insight and know-how to help organisations achieve greater success. The series is part of our James Legal – The Business 2017 campaign and The Business Culture Hull is one of the campaign partners. To read more about the campaign – which includes our Business Booster competition with a prize fund worth £45,000 to be shared between two stand-out Yorkshire & Humber Businesses, click here.