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Nine Hot Tips for Networking Newbies: The Beginner’s Guide to Networking
Recently we sent Matt The YouTuber, our young apprentice (the Jedi type; he’s not an actual apprentice), to do some networking at a local event.
It was all a bit last minute as I was poorly, but he was happy to pop along.
He very sensibly asked for some advice on how to actually go networking, so I looked on our blog to send him something useful, as I assumed we’d written something like a basic guide to your first networking event.
But I couldn’t find anything!
Shockingly, we’ve been going to networking events for years but have never written anything nice and simple for networking newbies.
So I thought I’d give you my nine hot tips for networking newbies.
1. Prepare before you go
This means taking your business cards and having them handy, not squashed at the bottom of a handbag or pocket.
Know what you want to do and who you’d like to meet, as well as what you can offer them. Your mindset needs to be ‘who can I help?’ not ‘how many business cards can I get so I can spam them later?’.
Sometimes you’ll get an attendee list before you go. Have a mooch at the attendee websites and social media so you know a bit about them before you meet them. You could connect with them on LinkedIn and introduce yourself in advance, to make it easier on the day. You may find you have something in common with them, which you can chat about.
Iron your cowboy shirt (other business attire is available) before you go. Think about wearing layers as it can get really hot in venues with lots of people in. You may be tagged in photos so if you prefer to look preened then take a bit of time beforehand.
Leave yourself enough time to park and find the venue if you’ve not been there before. If you have your own name badge it’s quite a good idea to wear it. Often people have heard of Spaghetti Agency but haven’t met us yet, so they spot the brand on our name badges and introduce themselves.
Think positively, relax, and don’t worry if you don’t know anyone. You will do by the end.
2. Think about your body language
To approach someone confidently just say hello and offer a handshake. The ‘fake it til you make it’ approach can be very useful here.
When you’ve got a few meetings under your belt you won’t bat an eyelid about it. Until then it’s worth remembering that other people get nervous too, so don’t feel alone in that.
Don’t worry if it feels a bit awkward or unnatural at first. Smile, listen intently and look friendly – you won’t go far wrong.
Remember that most communication is non-verbal so:
- Keep your arms uncrossed
- Shake hands firmly and not like a wet lettuce
- Use eye contact but don’t get creepy.
If there’s a group of people chatting they won’t mind if you go and join them – that’s the whole idea of networking events. As long as you appear warm and friendly who would not want to talk to you?
Keep an open stance and smile at people. Someone will always be happy to have a conversation with you.
3. Hang around the coffee
When Todd started networking he used to find it very difficult to initiate conversation with people, so his tip was to hang around the drinks area as that’s where people naturally gravitate. This is the social zone.
I like to help people by pouring the milk for them etc. as usually ladies in particular only have one hand free as the other is clutching paper or a handbag. This is useful for others and can help give a reason to start talking. It’s nice to be nice.
4. Ask questions
You can start with some superficial stuff like:
- What brings you here?
- Do you like the venue?
- Are you local?
- What’s your business?
- What did you do before this?
- Do you do much networking?
- How are you finding XXX?
- What are you working on at the moment?
- What do you do away from work?
- Who do you need introductions to?
People chat for hours about themselves. Asking questions means you’re interested in them and it also gives you some useful information about the person you’re talking to.
With the pleasantries out of the way you might find yourself involved in a really interesting in-depth conversation about life or business. If you want to dive deeper than the superficial stuff you’ll be more memorable and have more to talk about later on when you follow-up, so don’t be afraid to show your personality and be yourself so you find some great like-minded people to gel with.
5. Be genuinely interested
Successful networking is about building trust and developing relationships. It’s what we talk about all the time when we train people in social media.
In my years of networking I’ve only ever met about three or four people I couldn’t wait to get away from. That was because they only talked about themselves and pitched to me. Or they were really dull. And you’re not dull so you’ll be OK.
And if you’re not interested, draw the conversation to a close and move on to the next person. ‘It’s been lovely chatting, could I grab your card please and let’s stay in touch?’ excuses you to move on.
6. Offer help
There’s always something we can help with as we have a huge catalog of resources about business and marketing, a large network, and a heap of books and online materials. If you don’t have that it’s still OK. You’ll be able to offer introductions to useful people so long as you know who it is that people would like to meet.
If you genuinely try to help others out, not only will it make you feel good but you’ll find they want to do the same thing for you. They may be best friends with your next new client. You just don’t know. We’re also big believers in karma and The Universe helping out so just be nice for the sake of being nice and see what happens.
Think about how you’ll follow up before you go. Maybe you have a really interesting Facebook Group you’re a part of, that you can invite people to. Maybe you wrote a useful blog they’d appreciate. Maybe there’s a networking event that would be perfect for them. Have these ideas in your mental arsenal so if they’re helpful you can offer to send the information. How will you follow up with everyone? It should be tailored and individual depending on who you meet and what conversation you have.
7. Know yourself
As an agency it can be tricky to know what to talk about if we’re asked what we do.
We have a large offering and someone may not need, for example, graphic design, but may be desperate to learn how to do SEO themselves. By asking the right questions you’ll be able to work out whether what you do fits in to their need. This is why it’s more important to listen than speak.
8. Don’t be salesy-pushy
I once had a man who came up to me, thrust his (crappy Vistaprint) business card and started telling me about how I should get my driveway block paved with him. For all he knew I might not have owned a driveway. What a turn-off. This is the worst thing about some networking experiences – particularly speed networking. So don’t be that guy or girl. Eventually everyone else will work out that the hard sell is not going to do them any favours.
9. And finally, follow up!
It’s all well and good having a lovely time when you’re there, but if you don’t follow up when you get back to the office then you’re potentially missing opportunities. Don’t be that person who leaves business cards in a drawer.
There’s some great content out there on following up, so check out Sales Radar and also these blogs.
- Why your follow-ups don’t work
- Networking works when the meeting ends
- Stop hoping for new business from networking
Don’t forget that networking doesn’t have to be done in a formal ‘networking’ environment.
That person you’re sitting next to when you go to an evening at the theatre. That lady in the Post Office queue. That chap whose son is in your child’s class at school. They may own businesses or they may work for someone who needs your help. They’ll almost certainly know someone who does. Networking is fun when you get used to it and the more you do, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Bite the bullet, get involved, and you may even enjoy it!
Want a nice easy place to start?
Ask Jo about her ladies’ informal networking events which are at family-friendly times.
Or ask Todd about his fun evening events where he gets loads of awesome business people all together once a fortnight.
Get stuck in.
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