Throughout our lives and careers we meet many people who come to form significant people within our network. Growing and nurturing our network is, I believe, so powerful for developing great friendships, business contacts and much, much more. The earlier we start in our lives, the better. The more we nurture and invest time developing our network the more both parties can benefit, often when both are least expecting it.
It is also worth noting ‘networking’ isn’t just about going to an event and striking up conversations with strangers – networking permeates all areas of our lives and when done right it can be life enhancing and very enjoyable.
Whether we meet people through school, work, at an event (which can feel like so many people’s worst nightmare), conferences, delivering a talk and the myriad of ways to meet it is how we approach networking and what we do that can make us brilliant at it. Let’s explore what you can do to become brilliant.
Start early and nurture the relationship
A friend of mine’s 15 year old daughter recently shadowed me for work experience and one of my top tips was to tell Lydia to develop her network and realise its potential. Networks are very powerful if we look after and nurture them well. It is worth remembering how important it is to stay in touch with people over the months and years. You may well be surprised and delighted by what comes back and often when you are least expecting it.
Be yourself (particularly at networking events)
Be your authentic self and remember that first impressions count and talk about who you are and not just what you do. How would you answer the question “Who are you?’ – give it a try. People buy from people they like, who are interesting and who they trust. It also means you have the opportunity to strike up an interesting and broader conversation. And this is just the beginning of what can develop, in many situations, to be strong and lasting relationships.
Keep it punchy when you tell someone what you do
At a networking event when you are meeting someone for the first time tell them what you do powerfully and succinctly in a sentence – and leave your audience wanting to ask you more. Practise this before if you need to. You may love what you do and all the detail of your business but remember the person you are meeting doesn’t know it all and doesn’t need or want to as soon as they meet you. But over time many will so less is more at the beginning.
Listen. Simply put, this is an art form
We live in a crowded, noisy world. When we ask questions it isn’t often people have (or are given) the time, space and silence to really answer questions without the other person often feeling the need to add something mid-sentence. Take time to pause and really listen to what you’ve just asked that person. Some of the best conversations happen when we do just that.
Move around the room and don’t spend all your time with one person
It can be very comfortable to spend the whole time with someone you meet (you may well be nodding now – don’t worry, we’ve all done it!) who feels easy to talk to and you feel very safe with. Be confident knowing that everyone in the room will be feeling a little bit like you in approaching new people and striking up conversations for the first time. Networking is about moving around and meeting lots of different people. As you tell the person you are talking to that you are going to continue to mingle you will want to thank the person and exchange business cards and send them a follow up note and connect on LinkedIn and other relevant social channels. These are a great way for you both to keep in touch and see, for example, posts that you write and respond to and to develop the relationship.
Using your network brilliantly – ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’
One of my big mottos in life is ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ and I have gone out to my network for advice, business development opportunities, to introduce people and I have responded to many requests. I am also reminded of it never being too late to ask! I set up my consultancy business 3 years ago and as I made a list of key people I wanted to contact in my network it included an ex CEO of a business I had worked at 14 years before within WPP. I invited Paul for breakfast and to catch up and to ask if he had anyone in his network who might be interested in working with me. And to ask if there was anything I could do for him. He was delighted to be asked (even after 14 years!) and we are now in regular contact and it feels invaluable and I’ve sought lots of Paul’s advice too for my business. I also know as Paul is a Non Executive Director (NED), there may well be opportunities to introduce Paul to some of the members within my new business, Couplepreneurs.
Patricia Bacon is an expert business growth consultant and founder of Couplepreneurs a new global network for couples running businesses together. Find out more at www.couplepreneurs.co.uk