Networking is a great way to build your business, but not everyone relishes the prospect of meeting and greeting.
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Networking is a must-have skill for any entrepreneur. But I’ve met loads of entrepreneurs, and from my experience, networking does not always come naturally (myself included).
So here are my tips for getting out there and building a network – whether it’s at a big event or a quick coffee - even if it’s not your thing.
Before going to an event, spend 10 minutes thinking about the types of people you’re likely to meet, and what a few areas of common interest might be. On the way there, come up with a few opening questions to ask to get a conversation going.
2. Make it a game
I find it a challenge when I enter a busy room and don't recognize anyone. In fact, I sometimes get that daunted feeling and an urge to turn around and leave.
Here’s how I get over it – I set myself a challenge to meet 3 interesting people (I use the word interesting, not valuable, on purpose - but more on that later).
3. Turn your phone off and observe
At busy events it’s best to just head in and start a conversation straight away. Try to avoid reaching for the crutch we all carry with us – the smartphone.
Being free from distractions also helps you focus in on peoples’ body language. If two people are engrossed in a conversation directly facing each other, it’s best not to interrupt.
However, if they’re facing each other obliquely then they are open to others joining. Failing that, find someone standing on their own, as they will probably be grateful for someone to chat to.
Here’s a little cheat - a good place to engage in new conversations at big events is around the coffee or food table.
Time to switch off your phone and get in the game
4. Take interest in the person – be a human being
The more the other person talks, the better your conversation is going. It’s about asking questions and listening. The conversation doesn't have to be work related – in fact, it’s better if it isn’t.
Now’s not the time to push your proposition on to other people – don't sell your product, engage in the conversation.
If people ask, then by all means give them the elevator pitch, but your aim is to build relationships – not to try to close a deal over a glass of wine (as tempting as it may be). I have made the mistake of trying to do this (and yes, I still get over-enthusiastic and do it sometimes).
5. Don't hang out with a group of people you already know or with people from your business
The temptation is to just chat with the people you already know, or just talk to people from the same firm. Don't - at least not at the start.
You might feel a little safer but you obviously won’t meet new people.
Think of any great night you’ve had – it always includes some sort of spontaneous event you had no idea would happen. Open yourself up to a bit of serendipity by putting yourself out there.
6. Don’t keep score
People sometimes ask if I know how to determine which were the “best” events. There is no scientific formula.
Sometimes an event with an impressive attendee list might be full of egos. Other times you can meet some very interesting people. Ditto for events where you go in with low expectations.
It is very hard to tell where things will lead to, however hard you try – so don’t focus on results, go for the experience. It takes time, and you will probably need to go to many events before you start getting into a groove.
There's no telling which events will be most fruitful
7. Follow up
The two best networkers I have met - both extremely successful in their chosen careers - take the time to make notes on every individual they meet.
They jot down the person’s hobbies/family/likes etc. as an aide memoire.
Admittedly, I haven’t managed this on many occasions, but I do take the time to follow up and connect on social media. In some instances I also follow up with an email.
8. It’s not about you
This is the most important lesson to learn - pay it forward. Help others with no expectation of being helped back.
Whether you call it karma or just good etiquette, I’ve found that helping others out not only makes you feel good but tends to lead to a virtuous circle.
It takes time and perseverance to build a network. But don’t think of it as a purely business network – it’s a personal network and should be taken care of as such.
Putting yourself out there takes time and energy – but it’s more than worth the effort.
Richard Anson is founder and former CEO of Reevoo.