I love networking. So, in this post I’m sharing what I’ve learnt from my own networking experience over the past fifteen years. I will now caveat what follows by admitting I don’t always take my own advice!

First things first though – start networking! Sounds obvious I know. Yet I know many people that don’t like networking and avoid it like the plague. I think the term itself turns them off? So, if you are one of these people and you:

  1. Are nervous of networking
  2. Don’t see it as appropriate for your business
  3. Think it’s a waste of time …

… then think again. If you’re a small business owner, networking is essential. In an ideal world you will allocate time, resources and, if you have them, staff to it.

1. The Scattergun Approach

If you’re not sure where to start and which events to go to – take a leaf out of my book.  When I first set up both my businesses I took a scatter gun approach to networking.  I attended various groups as a visitor and several free networking groups as well as the ad hoc events that turn up every now and again.

That way, I got an idea of the way different events and groups work and what I liked and what I felt fitted with my style of networking. 

For example, you may prefer a morning event so you have the rest of the day ahead of you. Or your preference might be a lunchtime event because you have a school run to do.  Or are you an evening person and at your most sociable then? If so, look for evening events.

Your preferred time of day identified, be sure there is an event for you and it’s a mere matter of trial and error to find the one that works best for you.  Most groups that require membership, such as as BNI, 4N or Sterling, let you visit twice before deciding to join.

Other groups, such as Ladies who Latte or The Old Town Business Drinks, are free to attend while groups such as Swindon Business Village, have a pay-as-you-go system.

Try them all out and see which ones you prefer.  They’re so diverse that you should be able to find one that you really enjoy.

But do start!

2. Do Not Sell

‘If I’m not there to sell’, you might reason, what’s the point of networking?  For me, it’s about building lasting relationships with like-minded business owners who I enjoy working with. Aside from that, for me, networking is about:

  • Building a reliable group of people to whom I can refer my friends, family and clients. 
  • Making friends with people on my wavelength and supporting each other. 
  • Learning about other businesses and their ideal clients so that I can recognise when an opportunity may arise to refer someone to them.

And it’s about supporting small business owners and buying local whenever I can.

The absolute last thing on my list of reasons why I network, is selling my services to others – because no one will appreciate you giving them a hard sell. Telling isn’t selling as the saying goes.

So, if you go to an event with the idea of making an instant sale, prepare for disappointment. And, if all you do is try to sell, don’t be surprised if people give you a wide berth. And that leads me on to my next point …

3. Listen to other people and do not talk about yourself all the time

This is really difficult!  We inherently want to talk about ourselves (at least I do) and we tend to do it even more when we get nervous – guilty as charged!  But don’t. If I catch myself droning on or even worse, talking at someone, I stop, take a breath and ask them a question about themselves.

Think of it as investigative work without actually interrogating the person you are talking to.  Here are some open questions you could ask:

How is business?

Who is your ideal client?

What made you set up your business?

How has your week been?

If you can work things so that the other party is doing most of the talking they will enjoy it and you will be learning a lot about them – their business, their personality and you can spend the time thinking of possible referrals to them.  If you can make notes about the people you have met as soon as you get home, even better.  And, if you understand who they want to work with, there is a realistic chance that you will identify a potential client for them in the future. 

This is also a great thing to do if you find networking difficult.  It takes the spotlight off you and you can relax a bit and learn from the other attendees at the event.

4. Be nice

This may sound obvious but again, I have networked long enough to have met all sorts of people.

In the first instance, don’t spend your time moaning.  If someone asks you how you are the correct answer is: I’m good thank you and how are you?

This is not an open invitation to talk about your latest ailment, the struggles of parenthood or your nightmare journey to the event.  Apart from a short comment on the weather – we are British after all! – do not treat this as permission to whinge. People’s eyes will glaze over and they will be planning their escape from you.

And please be inclusive.  I have attended events over the years where people have ignored me at worst or, at best, been thoughtless.  For example, I used to attend a lot of events that were male dominated.  I found groups of men huddled together talking about the latest sporting event -and I know nothing about sport. In the first instance it is so difficult to break into such a huddle (luckily, I’m quite confident) because it is intimidating.  In the second instance, such behaviour excludes others. Such individuals are missing out on opportunities to build business relationships with those they are excluding.  It also shows a lack of empathy and understanding.  We should not have to bone up on the latest sporting event to stand a chance of joining in the conversation!

Be aware of such things is what I am trying to say.

5. Look the part

Man in a suit

Okay, so there’s an obvious reason why I mention this. I am a personal stylist after all.  You’ll remember from my previous blogs that people make subconscious decisions about you within a second of meeting you.  So, make sure you look your best by wearing something that gives you confidence.  But also make sure ’s appropriate for the event you’re attending.  And if you need help, dare I mention that I can carry out an image audit for you?

Now that’s my first five top tips on your journey to becoming great at networking. I trust that has been a helpful start because I’ll be giving you another five top tips in my next blog. 

I’d love to hear your tips too, or if you have any funny stories about networking or networking nightmares – please do share – keeping it polite and appropriate of course!