Now that you’ve read our article about ‘Why Business Networking is Important’, you’re probably wondering how to go about it. Irish businesses have a lot of opportunities for networking; the Local Enterprise Offices and Chambers of Commerce often host events aimed at bringing people in business together. Different networking events are hosted with different aims; some are great for finding new suppliers, some have a direct referral focus and some are aimed more generally at building your contact base and collaborations. Whatever the aim of the event you decide to go to, there are some simple dos and don’ts when it comes to networking. Here we’ll be going through the networking basics and giving you some general advice for making connections that matter.
8 Top Tips For Networking:
Be Genuine & Enthusiastic
This tip seems self-explanatory; people like genuine and enthusiastic people. Be enthusiastic about your own products or services, and about what the people you meet with are saying. Focus on what you can do for others rather than what they can do for you. This is a much better way of making new connections and will help you to make a good first impression.
Don’t Gravitate to People You Know
It’s easy to talk to people you already know but it won’t help you to progress. Try to meet new people and get the people you already know to introduce you to their connections. Networking is all about growth and expanding your current network. Remember strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet! Approach people who are on their own. Not only is it easier to talk to one person than to try to integrate into a big group; but the person will probably be happy to have someone to talk to and you’ll make a more meaningful connection as a result.
This tip cannot be emphasised enough. The key to good communication is listening. Stop trying to sell your product or service and start listening to other people. Networking can be a great opportunity to garner business, but this should happen naturally. At its heart networking is about trying to build relationships, so that’s what you should be focused on doing when you’re at events.
There’s no point in making great connections if you don’t follow up with them. You should follow up within 48 hours of meeting someone to make sure they don’t forget you. Maybe send them a personalised “nice to meet you” e-mail or let new contacts know that you’ve added them to your newsletter list and send them on the most recent copy. Reinforce who you are, what you do and where you met. Effective follow-ups are vital to networking success.
Attend Relevant Events
Attending networking events is great, but there’s no point in attending a restaurateurs networking event if you run a clothes shop. You should try to attend as many networking events as you can but make sure that the events you attend are relevant to you and your business or industry. It’s great to think outside of the box; but don’t think so far outside of it that you no longer get benefit from the events you attend.
Arriving early gives you a chance to meet people before the crowds arrive. It also allows you some time to get the lay of the land and make sure you are prepared. By arriving early you’re giving yourself the chance to compose yourself and put your best foot forward. Have plenty of business cards on hand and easily accessible. As well as this, always keep one hand free to shake hands. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone new, them going to shake your hand; and you having to juggle a plate of food and a drink, trying to get a hand free. It’s a great way to end up spilling something on yourself, so just don’t do it. By all means have a drink and have something to eat; but keep one hand free. Whether that means eating and drinking at different times or standing beside a table and putting your plate down; there are always ways around this dilemma that allow you to be prepared to shake hands.
On the business cards you’re given make notes of who the person is and how you met. A simple note, that’s just a reminder to yourself, will help you later when you’re following-up with your new connections. Even if you do this while still talking to the other person, helps to show your sense of personal connection.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking yes or no questions are not the best way to start a conversation. Ask open-ended questions and encourage the people you meet to talk about themselves. Preparing ice-breakers can be a good practice but the best ice-breakers are always questions. Show that you care about what your new connection has to say and try not to talk about yourself most of the time.
It can be daunting starting to network, but with these handy tips, soon you’ll be a networking pro. Attending networking events is a great way to progress your business and even make new friends. They’re a great opportunity to learn new things and find out about business opportunities. Ireland has a lot of great networking opportunities and they can be a lot of fun. If you are in the hospitality industry, CATEX is a great event which is held every year, or for the retail industry, Retail Excellence Ireland has an annual conference.