How to make the most of your face to face networking opportunities
Networking for most professionals is a chore.
No one really enjoys it.
How many times have you felt compelled to attend for fear that, in your absence, someone will talk ill of you or the firm?
Networking tends to fall into a number of discreet categories:
- Firm hosted events.
- Referrer events.
- Industry events.
- Shows or exhibitions.
- Networking organisations who make money from networking.
- Social events.
- Sport – usually being invited as a guest.
- Speed networking.
- Professional bodies.
One theme that is common is that no one has an agreed strategy. If there is a thread that runs through the accepted wisdom it is this: You are there to sell or at least try to get work.
But if you really want to make the most of the available opportunities you have to be more explicit in:
(a) the need for networking;
(b) the methodology that underpins your success strategy; and
(c) the follow up process (this is where the real networking takes place).
Don’t kid yourself. You don’t have to go to every (or even most) networking events.
This is lazy thinking.
I think it perfectly proper you should ask the question whether there genuinely is a need for you to go. To quote from Derek Sivers in his latest book Anything You Want if your response is not “Hell Yeah, then No” then don’t go.
But of course bear in mind that this may limit the number of events that you attend (over the course of the year) to a mere handful. If that is the case, then you better treat it like a Show, a West End Special or the Biggest event in the World. You know something that you can be super excited about.
As to the type of event, I wouldn’t recommend that you spend all your time going to industry events unless the attendees or those that they associate with are likely to be part of your target market. Being known about is one thing but not being spoken about by the right people is something else.
Sometimes you end up acting as the deputy or stepping into the breach for one of your colleagues. How often do you say no? Of course, there will be political sensitivities, particularly where it is a firm wide event, but don’t feel compelled if you can’t see the opportunity for you or the firm.
In the final analysis you need to consider if there is a business case in going. Put it this way: If it was your money that you were spending or time investment, would you bother to go?
Go on admit it, you don’t have a methodology. Or I should say you don’t have a written one.
You may have an implicit pattern that you follow but if you had to pass your firm’s manual on networking to a new person, you wouldn’t be able to.
My recommendation is that you think about preparing a networking manual – yes I am serious. As Michael Gerber makes clear in his book The E-Myth Revisited if you want to run a successful business you have to systemise the process. He calls in aid the business franchise model to prove his point i.e. McDonalds, FedEx and Disney.
Of course having a manual is one thing, getting people to internalise it is something else. A lot of the manual would focus on the really elemental things like your opening statement, dress code and exchanging business cards but a manual can’t teach someone to be personable or to have a curious personality.
But the manual can assist in demystifying the process and also detail how you maximise your opportunities.
If I can make a plea to all those people attending networking events: be interested in the other person. Listen carefully and be thoughtful.
The Follow up
You have met some interesting people, exchanged business cards and agreed to stay in touch. All looking good so far …
You arrive back at your desk, there is a slew of emails – they all look pretty turgid – and you go about the business of cutting them down to size. Before you know it you are lost in one project or another and your networking event and contacts are a dim and distant memory. Give it a week and even if you have their business card on top of your computer or desk, you have forgotten what you said and what you agreed to do.
Some firms will have a systematised procedure for the post-networking aspect but not many. At the very least you should:
- Make a note of the person you met, something about the discussion, the company and most importantly what you have agreed to do. I don’t care if you write it on your arm just as you keep a record.
- Send a hand-written Thank You card. I have some blank cards but you can use a firm-branded set. Please don’t resort to another email. Receiving a Thank You note will really mark you out from the crowd.
- Even if you don’t think there is an opportunity to work together, you keep your contact firmly in mind to make an introduction to another client. The most powerful networkers are those that put others before their business and try to make that all important connection.
- If you have promised to do something or better still there is an opportunity to get together again (even if you think you might be sold to), for heaven’s take the opportunity. You have to bear in mind that even if the person or business that you are dealing with doesn’t eventually do business with you, they may be kind enough to think of you when making a recommendation.
Networking is a fabulous opportunity to heighten your profile. It will do wonders to promote Brand You and if you approach it in a systematic way then it will pay off in the long run. It is not a quick fix for your firm’s business development and needs to be considered a much more serious undertaking than is currently the case.
If you approach it with the (constant) mind-set “What’s in it for me” then very quickly you will grow disillusioned with networking. You will come to see it as drain on your time. To make it a success you have to adopt a softly, softly mindset but with a determination to make it work.
Focus on staying in contact and don’t grade people or companies too soon into the process as one thing or another. Just because the business only turns over £1M doesn’t mean that they couldn’t work with you.
Most of all: Enjoy it. Enjoy the engagement. Enjoy the fact that this moment is all you have, and as my 7 year old constantly reminds me: “You have to be in it to win it [Dad]”.
Networking will always be part of your job. If you chose to do it badly or not at all then make sure you have a Plan B – and a good one at that. Understand that you are your brand and even though you are not a celebrity, nevertheless the only way that people will know about you (outside of a deal or job) is to meet you.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~