Take the work out of networking

Networking doesn’t have to be hard work.

We know we need to get “out there”  to increase our customer base and so we need to “go networking”. Many people are anxious about what networking actually involves and even more so when they find it involves going into a room full of strangers. Here are a few hints to help ease networking angst.

It doesn’t have to be a formal networking situation – though there are plenty of these wherever you are. Simply seek new experiences. Go on meetup.com , support a local production and speak to someone in the audience, join a workshop to learn a new skill, talk to someone new at the school gate or on the touchline. 

Be on time. I can’t stress this enough. Or even better, a little bit early.  Many of the best conversations happen while people are waiting for things. 

Heading for the refreshments on arrival gives you a sense of purpose and an air of authority (even when inside you may feel you have neither). But the bitter voice of experience has taught me that it’s hard to smile and greet someone with a drink in one hand and a snack in the other. 

Look for people chatting together whose body language is open to someone joining their group – stand close to the conversation, listen and then politely interject with a question based on their conversation.  “I hope you don’t mind me joining in – what do you think about…” 

Don’t worry about being interesting – instead focus on being interested. Good opening questions are “how are you doing today?” or “So what’s keeping you busy at the moment?” and then wait. Allow the other person to talk to you. Listen and show you’re listening.

Most importantly – make sure that you follow up afterwards. Send a text or connect on LinkedIn in the room but if you don’ arrange some kind of further meeting it’s harder to make a connection later. 

With increasing demands on our time and an increasing reliance on social media versus real life interaction I know it feels difficult to go and make an effort to meet new people. Even if it’s a chance to catch up with old friends, sometimes it can all feel like too much.  

But I’m here to urge you not to cancel. Because you never know when a chance encounter may lead to something more.  Every opportunity we have to meet new people and make a good impression is a chance to do business- just bear in mind it may not be that day. Do your best to be helpful, rather than sell and your customers will come to you. 

This column  first featured in the Bishop’s Stortford Independent business pages. 

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