Feeling nervous about face-to-face networking? It can be helpful to have a plan of action before you attend an event. Here are my top 10 tips:
- Network with intention
One of the best networking tips I was ever given was to network with intention.
What is it that you want to get from networking? Do you want to build your knowledge of a certain sector? Would you like to grow your referral network? Perhaps you want to connect with people who share a similar audience to you to collaborate on a project?
You’ll feel much more confident about networking if you know why you’re there.
- Plan your elevator pitch
An ‘elevator pitch’ is a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in your business. The idea is that you sum up your purpose, products or services in a sentence or two that you could, in theory, communicate in the time of a short lift journey between floors.
I think the best elevator pitches are those that talk about your ‘why’ – in other words, the reason you’re in business.
- A copywriter might say, “I help my clients to find their unique voice and tell stories that will resonate with their customers”.
- A financial adviser’s elevator pitch might be, “I help people change their money mindset so they aren’t afraid of making money, and then I help them to use their money to create the life they want to live”.
- A social media marketer might say, “Everyone knows they should be using social media to grow their business but it can be really hard to find the time or know what to post. Facebook can suck hours of your time and how do you really know what’s working? That’s where I come in. I help people get focused on their goals and understanding their audience so they can get strategic about making a profit from social media”.
If you can give a succinct, benefit-focused elevator pitch, it will make it a lot easier for people to remember what you do and refer you to their own network.
- Identify your ideal client
One of the most powerful things you can do to grow your business is to identify your ideal client, the type of person that you love working with and who ‘gets’ and values what you do.
So many businesses strive to create marketing that appeals to everyone and, in doing so, find that it appeals to no-one. If you know who your ideal client is, you can then figure out how to talk to them, what to say, what your brand should look like, how you meet their needs, and so much more.
You will also be able to accurately describe the people you work with at networking events, which, as above, makes it far easier for your connections to refer you.
- Have some conversation starters planned
If you’re worried about whether or not you’ll be stuck for words at a networking event, it can be helpful to plan a few conversation starters. You may find you don’t need them but just a simple question like, “What brings you here to this event?” can help you feel like you’ve got a conversational icebreaker to fall back on.
- Be interested
It’s completely understandable that many of us get hung up on what we’re going to say at a networking event, but we should never underestimate the power of listening as opposed to talking.
Some of my best experiences of networking have been when I’ve listened to people and asked them more about what they do. When you show that you’re interested in what they have to say, people will relax around you and give you insights into their business. You may discover roles, products and services you’ve never heard of before or even opportunities you would never have considered.
- Be yourself
Since setting up the Unique Mumpreneur, lots of women have told me that they dread networking because they’re worried about saying the wrong thing or being spotted as an imposter. You may also feel that you have to impress people and be someone you’re not in order to stand out from the crowd.
I always believe that the only way to build authentic relationships is to be yourself. Trying to anticipate what will impress a stranger is too stressful and often goes wrong. Instead, I try to ask questions about things that genuinely interest me or talk about things that I feel passionate about. We women tend to want to please those around us but the truth is that we won’t be loved by all the people we meet, all of the time. Some introductions won’t go any further after a networking event but, if you’re true to yourself, those relationships that flourish will be built on stable ground.
- Be gracious
There’s nothing worse than chatting to a person at a networking event and feeling as though they’re looking over your shoulder for the next potential contact. Yes, you will probably want to work the crowd and chat to as many people as possible but my advice is to be gracious.
When you’re talking to someone, smile, make eye contact and actively listen to what they have to say. If you see someone standing alone, invite them into your conversation. When you end a conversation, tell the other person that it was a pleasure to meet them. Small gestures can make a big impact.
- Give without the expectation of receiving
For me, giving without the expectation of receiving is at the heart of successful networking. OK, you shouldn’t be giving away your products and services for free, but you can give advice in response to questions such as “What do you tell your clients when one of your children is unexpectedly ill and you have to push back a deadline?” or “How do you manage to run several businesses at the same time around a family?” People will value your unique perspective and remember your willingness to share your insights or swap ideas.
Similarly, if someone tells you they’re looking for an accountant, a web designer or a virtual assistant, you could save them huge amounts of time and stress by recommending your trusted contacts. You may not see the benefits immediately, but the goodwill you generate could pay dividends in the long-run.
- Follow up
You’re likely to come away from a networking event with a healthy stack of business cards from the people you met, but all those contact details won’t have any value if you don’t use them.
I always recommend sending a quick email to your new contacts within 24 hours of meeting them, if possible. You don’t have to say much – just something like:
It was so nice to meet you at the Unique Mumpreneur event yesterday. Best of luck to your daughter for her mock exams next week!
We started talking yesterday about how much our audience has in common and that a collaboration might help build both of our mailing lists. I’d love to continue that conversation. I wondered whether you’re free to meet for coffee next Thursday lunchtime?
As you can see, this message reflects back on the things you talked about and makes the first step towards building on your introductory meeting at the networking event.
Another step is to connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn – remember to personalise your connection request by reminding them that you met at a networking event rather than sending the generic, template request.
- Be kind to yourself
You would be a very unusual person indeed if you were able to go into a room of strangers and feel 100% confident about it. Everyone feels nervous when they’re networking – sometimes it goes well and other times you may say something that makes you cringe afterwards. And that’s completely OK. You’re human. In reality, the other people in the room are probably worrying so much about their own nerves that they will barely notice yours. So be kind to yourself and give yourself a massive round of applause for networking in the first place.
Have you got your ticket for the next Unique Mumpreneur Networking Group event yet? There’s still time, although they’re selling fast, so please don’t leave it to the last minute to purchase your ticket and miss out completely. Click here to buy your ticket today.