We’ve done a lot of networking – it’s a great way to meet new business contacts, get to know the local business community and get the message about your business across – whether you’re a builder, accountant, marketer or full time virtual assistant. Help on how to make the most of your networking opportunities isn’t short in supply – we’ve written blogs before on how to prepare for a networking meeting and how to follow up afterwards – but this is all about what to do when you’re actually there.
Networking as a strategy
Networking is a marketing activity, so it makes sense to have a strategy when you go to a meeting. If you haven’t put any thought into what you’re going to say or what messages you want to communicate. Put aside thoughts of networking being an opportunity to give out or collect in as many business cards as possible, and look at it as an opportunity to learn, and opportunity to help and an opportunity to follow up with potentially useful contacts.
If you’ve done your pre-networking planning, you’ll already know:
- The format of the meeting – whether you will have to stand up and talk about your business, give a short presentation, take part in a discussion or just meet and chat with others.
- Who you want to meet – if you’ve seen a delegate list, you’ll have found a few people you definitely want to speak to.
- What your goals are – to arrange meetings? To invite people to your own event? To get permission to put some literature in the post? To collect three key names for your virtual sales support function to follow up with?
Being prepared will help you to make more of the time you have and come away feeling you have achieved something.
The simple things done well
People form opinions quickly, so make sure you put some thought into how you greet people. Always smile, have a positive handshake and say your name clearly. You can just say your first name, and you don’t have to announce your business.
You’re likely to have a name badge, so wear it where people can see it. Most experienced networkers recommend the right shoulder, because that is where the eye naturally goes when shaking hands. It’s common for most right-handed people to put their badges on the left, because it’s easier, but the right is more effective. Some venues use sticky labels as badges – these peel off and don’t stick well at all to some fabrics, so it might be worth investing in a badge holder and making your own so that it’s always easy for people to see who you are.
Don’t always talk about business first
“So, what do you do?” is probably the most commonly-heard phrase at a networking event. That means you’ll stand out if you ask a different type of question. You might make it about how good the coffee is, or to ask whether they have been to the venue before. Drawing out a more personal response to begin with helps to build the relationship in a different way. You can get on to business later – particularly if you’re at a meeting where everyone in the room gets some time to talk.
The more specific you are about what you want, the more likely people are to be able to help you find it. If you are at a meeting where you get, for example, 60 seconds to talk about your business, make sure you’re clear not only about what you do, but who you want to do it for. So you may use an example of a recent project and then say: “I am looking for more work of this kind, preferably with accountant and solicitor firms with 10 partners or more.” That helps the people in the room to think about precisely who they could put you in touch with.
Be prepared for the investment
This isn’t about your financial investment, it’s about your time and energy. Networking tends to work best when you go to the same group regularly – people get to know you personally and like you. They find out more about your business, so they are in a better position to sell it to others, and you in turn get to learn from the other people in the room and can refer your own clients to them. Building long-term, genuine relationships is the key to successful networking, so take the time to find a few groups that you like belonging to and concentrate on those, rather than flitting from one to another.
Have a networking partner
You won’t be able to go to every single meeting – you’ll have client meetings and internal meetings and client work to do. So it’s useful to have someone who can represent your business for you. Lots of meetings allow you to send a substitute in your place, and you can ask another networking friend to do this for you – you can give them something to say about your business, and the meeting organiser will also often give them the opportunity to talk about their own business, so that they get something additional out of the process.
Make time at the end of the meeting
Unless you have to, don’t race off at the end of the meeting. This is the point where you can catch someone to say: “I thought what you said was very interesting. Perhaps we can have a coffee and I can find out more?” This gives you the chance to put meetings in the diary or at least collect relevant details so that you can follow up. You can then either do this yourself when you get back to the office, or it could be something you can get a virtual assistant to do for you, to save time.
Time to put it into practice
If you’ve been networking already and found it unrewarding, these tips might help you to get more out of it next time. And if you’re just starting out, we hope this little bit of virtual assistant help and guidance puts you on the right path and gives you the confidence to get out and make an impact.
If you’re short on time and need help with networking follow ups and diary appointment setting, or any of our other virtual business services, feel free to call us on 0800 994 9016 or click here to request a free consultation.