How to network effectively

Heather has identified the following six steps to effective networking:

1. Get your strategy right

The most common reasons for networking are:

  • To meet a specific type of person from a particular company (or industry) who, in the normal course of events, would not take a telephone call from you or reply to a written approach
  • To learn as much as you can about your potential clients and their business environments
  • To raise your profile in your client group and to develop yourself to your highest potential
  • To make new friends/colleagues/partners/collaborators

Before attending networking events, you must be very clear about the following:

  • In which sectors or industries you want to build a reputation
  • Who your decision-makers or influencers are, defined by job title e.g. CEO, CFO etc
  • The particular companies you are aiming to work with

2. Attend the right networks

Because businesses and business people have different networking needs, organisations spring up to help organise events for them. These organisations can be categorised as:

  • Membership organisations
  • Trade and professional associations (federations, institutes and chartered)
  • Business groups
  • Professional event organisers (conferences and exhibitions)
  • Special interest groups (for instance, charities, political organisations, religious organisations)

It is almost certain that an organisation somewhere is running an event that will attract just the sort of people you are looking to meet.

There is one more element you need to understand in order to find networks to meet your objectives. The people you want to meet are driven by their own concerns – not yours. Events organisers usually address topics of importance to particular industry sectors, or operate in a particular geographical area, or meet the needs of a special interest group. You are looking for events about issues that are of primary interest to your target market(s).

3. Understand your client

Heard that before? So why is it that so few people really get to grips with this one? Put yourself into your clients’ shoes. What keeps them awake at night? What is at the top of their to do lists? How could you help them address these challenges quickly and effectively?
Listen out for nuggets of useful information, such as their budget planning process and criteria for supplier selection. This can reveal the unspoken culture of their company or industry sector.

4. Project a clear message and build up your reputation

This is one of the most exciting features of networking. It is also the most complex because it is about you and those you wish to influence.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What type of reputation do you want to build in your chosen niche area?
  • What expertise/specialism do you need to develop to influence your contacts?

People buy from people first, so if you want to master the art of influencing others then first master the art of understanding yourself, then move on to understanding other people.

When you network always bear in mind that each point of contact will further embed your reputation so be careful and considered.

5. How to work a room

This activity causes the most angst to aspiring networkers. Why? Because working a room raises the spectre of rejection. It is where our greatest weaknesses are on show. We have to make conversation and interact with people. Sounds easy, but we are under pressure – and that can show.

7 key things to do:

  • Get rid of any personal belongings (i.e. smartphone); just keep your business cards on you
  • Wear an outfit with a pocket to put your cards (and money) in
  • Consider wearing something distinctive (a good aid to later recall)
  • Make a point of saying hello to the organiser, sponsors and host
  • Build rapport, trust and interest; never ‘sell’
  • Practise your communication skills, particularly listening
  • Spend time reconnecting with people you have met before; they are your virtual sales force, and will do your word-of-mouth selling for you

On first arriving

  • Pin your badge top right (easy for people to read)
  • Acquire a guest list, if there is one
  • Scan the guest list to decide who you might want to meet
  • Stand quietly on your own for a few minutes and observe the room

What are you striving to achieve?

  • Trust and rapport with those you speak to
  • Some common ground with everyone you meet
  • A lasting impression of a warm, open and approachable human being
  • The reputation of being a valuable asset to companies in your target market(s)

Stop thinking this is about you!

  • Most people only think about themselves; this is not selfish, just normal
  • Most people don’t ‘people watch’ so won’t notice if you’ve made a ‘mistake’
  • Most people love a good conversation
  • Just ask anyone a really good question – and off they go (make sure you listen to the answer to find out how to steer the conversation)

Be the most interesting version of yourself

  • As soon as you meet someone give them 100% of your attention
  • Always shake hands, and make sure it is a good handshake; it does matter
  • Always stay focused on the conversation, however difficult it is
  • If you don’t understand what someone is talking about, ask more questions
  • Mirror the body language of the other person for a while
  • If they make good eye contact so must you
  • Stay with someone until the conversation draws to a natural halt
  • In the main, your conversation should be more about the interests and concerns of the other person than your own
  • Try to avoid the elevator speech; it sounds practised and often false. Feed it naturally into a conversation instead
  • Only produce your business card if you have established rapport
  • Only ask for a business card if you believe you will be able to pass on information or advice of benefit to the other party at a later date

6. Staying in touch with your networks

People put a huge amount of effort into attending events and yet place very little emphasis on the follow-up. The follow-up is when networking starts to pay dividends. Answer this question: “when you meet the right person how long do you think this person should be in your life for? A few months, years, decades?”

“My mindset is that the right person is in my life now for the rest of mine and their careers. The right person is always the right person, so from the moment we meet we start a journey. Therefore when I stay in touch with people it is with this journey in mind that I then stay in touch” says Heather White. “Every time I meet this person/make contact with this person, my aim is to leave the relationship in a good place so every time we reconnect it is a positive and happy feeling”.

The principle to follow here is “givers gain”. Don’t wait until you need something before you pick up the phone or send that email. Build up a network of contacts who you can help, then perhaps at some point you may be able to call upon them for their help.

The follow-up

If you felt you connected with another person and agreed to follow up the meeting then do so!
The most successful and skilled networkers have their own follow-up style. The follow-up letter, email, telephone call, is virtually instant, normally tinged with humour, usually referring to the conversation that took place, and often touching on something of further interest to the other party. If they feel that there is a case for a professional relationship, they say so. They keep their promises.

Next resource: How to use LinkedIn to your advantage