The return to work after the summer holidays often coincides with a flurry of invitations to networking events. The Autumn networking season is traditionally a good time to reconnect with existing contacts and forge new ones.
Networking has long been a key facet of professionals’ Business Development activities. Not only does it help you to get some valuable face to face time with clients and contacts (both current and potential ones) it can also be a good way to:
– Raise your professional profile and awareness of your firm
– Access helpful insight and market intelligence
– Gain and swap knowledge
– Develop ideas and new sources of business
How to network effectively
Whilst being a value BD tool, networking does require a time investment on the part of the professional. Those who feel disappointed with the return they get from this investment, often haven’t found the best networking environment or developed a planned approach to get the most out of the opportunity. In short, they’re not networking effectively.
Setting networking goals
Like any BD activity, it’s vital to have networking goals to give your efforts some focus – and you can measure your progress against them. Your goals will be different depending on your experience. Here’s a few to get you thinking … what should yours be, overall and for a forthcoming function?
I am looking to:
- Raise my profile externally/internally
- Build stronger relationships with people I know
- Create new contacts with potential work givers
At a function
I want to:
- Meet three people I don’t know who would be good quality contacts
- Have a business-related conversation with three potential client contacts I already know
- Build stronger relationships with two existing clients
- Talk to two senior figures who could be of influence for me
Selecting the ‘best’ events
It’s always important to use your networking time effectively and so consider carefully the events/activities that will give you best return for your time. If in doubt, ask clients and contacts what events they go to and cherry pick the best events, rather than go to everything to which you are invited. ‘Best’ in this context will be those events which present the most potential for you with regard to goals. They will give you the opportunity to network with contacts you really want to forge or strengthen relationships with. Don’t be afraid to ask your current contacts for advice or introductions to people they know who it would be valuable for you to meet
Working the room
It is also crucial that you make the right impact when networking – download our guide 8 essentials for working the room at networking events for some simple and highly practical techniques. One vital ingredient though is to have the mind-set of how can I help, not what can I sell. Showing a genuine interest in people and listening enthusiastically to them (rather than launching into a sales pitch) is more likely to uncover potential work opportunities.
Build in time to follow up
Another reason why some professionals don’t find networking events as effective as they should is because they fail to allocate time to follow-up the contacts they make. Often a person will need several (often face-to-face) interactions to trust you enough to send a work opportunity your way. The key then is to build a follow-up into networking conversations and have time in your diary set aside to undertake that follow-up promptly and professionally.
Networking events are a great opportunity to develop your network and meet new contacts. The key to ensuring they generate new work opportunities for you over time is to be more proactive in how you approach them. This includes planning your involvement. It also means having a broad range of relevant insight, resources and contacts which you can draw on to help you forge stronger relationships with the people you meet.
Be mindful that research into networking events shows that impressions are formed quickly and those professionals who demonstrate interest, warmth and enthusiasm in the people they meet do very well. The key then is to make people feel at ease and be interested and curious in what they have to say. Take subtle control of the conversation by careful questioning and listen and link what you’ve heard to how you and others in your network could potentially help.
Above all, be current in your knowledge, have a view and create opportunities to stay in touch where it is relevant for both of you to do so.
If you feel you need help with your networking or Business Development approach going forward, do get in touch to discuss our coaching, training and e-learning support is this field. Tel 44 (0) 20 7488 4419 or email firstname.lastname@example.org