Getting together with a crowd of strangers can be exciting for some people and terrifying for others. But in the new world of flexible employment, the ability to “work a room” holds more value than ever.
Whether you’re in full or part time work, running your own business or freelance, an increasing number of roles in today’s job market require finding business leads in some way, and/or building relationships with third parties, be they suppliers, partners or customers.
Honing your networking skills means you can “optimise” your business contacts, building trust with the people you regularly connect with and meeting new people who are relevant. Networking is a great way to find out what people are talking about in your sector – latest trends and developments – as well as finding out where your skills can be most useful. The business world is becoming more fluid and, even among big corporates, there is an emphasis on sharing information – people are more willing to help each other. If you are looking for a full or part time job, networking is essential - what better way to connect with people who can tell you first hand about upcoming vacancies?
It’s easy to dismiss networking as time-consuming: there's a theory that anyone who’s got time to “network” is simply not busy enough and therefore not worth speaking to. Do high level people network? Of course they do! But you’re more likely to find them at The Ivy than your local Dog and Duck.
So, everyone’s doing it. The key is making it work for you. Whether you’re shy, outgoing or somewhere in the middle, ask yourself these five key questions before networking - you're more likely to come away with a smile on your face, and a pocketful of useful connections:
1. What type of networking do I enjoy? Networking is now big business and there are many different formats to choose: from industry conferences and cross-sector gatherings through special interest group events, speednetworking and barcamps, to niche dinner and book clubs. Think about the environment you feel most comfortable in and choose an event that suits. You may wish to consider joining a professional body or business club (most require a membership fee) for access to exclusive events. But there’s also an increasing number of free and low cost events. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for email alerts from websites like Meetup and Eventbrite – both great for finding relevant events in your area.
2. Who do I want to speak to? Find out who will be there (Eventbrite and Meetup events often show the list of attendees on the website, and many events now hand out a list on arrival). Take five minutes to scan the list and see if there’s anyone you should meet: it could be a potential customer, business partner or supplier. Or it could be someone who’s always inspired you who you’d like to learn from. It’s often said that you have to “kiss a lot of frogs” in networking and there's an element of truth in that! Having a list beforehand can keep you focused. If you find yourself talking to someone who has nothing in common with you, make your excuses politely and move on - it’s a networking event!
3. What's my elevator pitch? It’s good to have a sentence or two ready that explains succinctly what you do or want to do. Something that works especially well is having a problem or question you’re happy to share with others, because you’ll be surprised how often people like to help. The the most important thing is to remember it’s not all about you! Don’t forget to listen to what the other person has to say, and ask questions!
4. What do I want to get out of the event? Whether it’s someone who can help you get a new job, a product or service idea to follow up or a solution to a business problem, you will find you get more out of the event if you set yourself a goal.
5. How can I follow up? Networking at the event is all very well, but it’s even more valuable if you follow up, ideally the next day. Strengthen any connection you’ve made by dropping a quick line to say how nice it was to meet them. Email is great, but connecting via LinkedIn or Twitter is increasingly common and less time-consuming for both of you! Plus these last two have the added bonus of remaining relevant if your contact changes jobs.
We hope these tips help with your networking. Is there anything we’ve missed out? We’d love to hear any advice you have for making networking work for you. Please post your stories on our Facebook page, connect with us on LinkedIn, or follow us on Twitter for updates and stories.