If you read my previous articles you will now know why you need to network and where to network. Now it’s time for you to actually attend your first networking event, writes Sue France.
My first tip is to go alone. Scary as it may be, networking is one activity that works better if you don’t hunt in pairs.
When I held corporate breakfasts, several ladies turned up from the same company. They would insist on sitting together, so they would become a ‘closed’ group that no one else could infiltrate. I would be surprised if they ever made any new business connections at all.
If you do take a friend or a colleague, split up when it’s time to sit down as you are much more likely to enter into conversations with others when by yourself.
We have all sat next to a friend at an event, getting so wrapped up in our own conversation that we shut others out. If you just need a private conversation with a buddy, go to a coffee shop and save your money.Let’s say you have chosen a ladies’ coffee morning as your first foray into the strange unknown world of business networking. Take a deep breath outside the door (this calms you and gets you in the right frame of mind) and in you go.
Tell the organiser you are new. She will probably introduce you to the regulars who will make you feel welcome straight away. If not, head for the coffee machine. That is a great place to start conversations and to meet people.
Have business cards within easy reach; in your pocket or in a brightly coloured container in your bag. There is nothing worse than scrabbling around when someone asks for your card and that does not create a good first impression.
Look for an ‘open circle’, that’s a group of people who have left a gap for someone else to join them. When you join a circle, listen into the conversation and add your own comment. Hopefully someone will say “Hello” and you can then introduce yourself.
Don’t ask personal questions. One of my very first networking events was soon after my late daughter had passed away, and I wasn’t ready to talk about this with strangers. I didn’t ask anyone if they had children and hoped no one would ask me.
Everyone in the room is a stranger to you. Although they all want to grow their businesses it doesn’t mean they want you to know if they are going through a divorce or any other personal struggles.
You will get to know people, and will build friendships too, but at this stage it’s always better not to delve too deep.
Keep the chat about your business but don’t start a hard sell, or try to force your product on people, That’s a big turn-off at networking events and people will begin to avoid you. Tell them what you do; be a good listener and ask questions about their businesses.
Successful networking is a slow progression towards a relationship and the people who achieve the best results are those genuinely interested in what everyone else does.
I went alone to my first large networking event. As I stood at the door I decided my strategy would be to find a person whose outfit I really liked so I could go up and compliment them as an opening gambit.
I also decided the person had to have red hair like me and, luckily, there was only one person in the room who fitted my brief so I approached her immediately. You might think my strategy rather odd but I like to add a bit of fun to my networking and set myself challenges.
The lady owned a beautician business and also ran a regional consultancy for a Harley Street cosmetic surgeon. As we sat together at the lunch, she lost no time in telling me what improvements I needed, including a chin lift, eye bag removal and a new nose.Sue France
I wasn’t too depressed, however, because she bought two tables for a charity fashion event I was holding at our hotel that month and placed the surgeon in our hotel for his twice-monthly visits to the city.
Happy networking, Let us know how you get on as we would love to know.
Sue France set up and ran Forward Ladies Networking in Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester city centre. Planning to retire in 2014, the Cheshire ladies who had attended her events persuaded her to continue. She still holds one networking event a month. Her group is called Sue France Creative Connecting in Cheshire. To find out more contact her via email@example.com