When you are relatively new in business, as I am at the time of writing this, one of the most confronting things on your very long to-do list is probably ‘network’.
If you are a natural people person and your job is to be around people, then networking on a regular basis is probably a highlight, but for me it’s knee-knocking, teeth-checking, wine-swilling territory.
I was lucky enough to have the help of a terrifically socal business coach to help ease me into the idea, but ultimately there was no way to get around it – I had to put myself out there. The sheer vulnerability I felt when I first started attending networking events was palpable. I was certain people could see the fear on my face, and hear it in my voice.
Surprisingly though, it’s gotten easier and a year on, I’m quite comfortable with attending events and talking about what I do. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that it’s important to pick and choose the events you go to based on the people who will be attending and your alignment with them. My personal preference is to attend events where I find a great mix of fun people whom are in a similar position in their business to me. I’m not a fan of those more structured events where everyone does and intro and pops a sticker on their chest.
My good friend, interior designer and fellow networker, Kate from Designer Man Cave, reveals:
“Even when I used to work in the corporate world, I wasn’t very ‘corporate’, so the concept of wearing a name tag doesn’t really resonate with me. There is something that increases my anxiety levels when I have to wear a name tag. It suddenly puts pressure on the fact you are interacting with a room of new people. I have tried the traditional networking group method, and it’s not for me. Everyone has an agenda and it feels very forced. My outlook on business, is it’s personal. I am my brand. So making new connections should be a natural and friendly process. It’s not about pushing what you do onto another person (the second someone does that, I run a mile!), it’s about having an interested and equal conversation about work and life in general.
Ps. I much prefer to do this over a casual coffee, at an event, or with a wine in my hand (a little dutch courage never hurt anyone!)”
I’m with Kate 100% on the networking without name tags thing. That’s not to say you can’t whack a pile of business cards in your pocket, after all, you are there to connect with people for mutual benefit, but it’s a bit like dating, a little bit of mystery can help.
My top tips for networking (name tags or sans) are:
- Attend new networking groups alone. Attending with a friend or spending all night talking to a colleague will inhibit your ability to meet new people
- Find out who will be attending. A little research into who will be there will save you wasting time in an awkward room
- Don’t drink too much
- Have your business cards easily accessible
- Be open to making friends, not just clients – comrades can be just as valuable and may be good referrals for you
- Try to talk to at least 3 different people/groups. 3 is a good number for a 1-2 hour period. It’s not speed dating, but you want to maximise your time
- Don’t talk about yourself until you’re invited to. It’s a bit weird holding back, but listening is important and if you are paying attention you might meet a potential client
- Be polite and respectful. Don’t interrupt and when moving on, excuse yourself gracefully
- Be generous. Offer off the cuff advice as a way of asserting your knowledge. You might get a call the next day
- Thank the hosts of the event and if you really enjoyed yourself, assert that you would love an invite to the next one
- If you REALLY like the event, and found potential clients in the mix, offer to contribute to the goodie bags or sponsor a lucky door prize
- Review any business cards the next day, and follow up your conversations with emails, and for those worthwhile connections, a linkedIn invite.
- If you have any colleagues who might benefit from the services of people you met on the night, consider passing on details or introducing them – the value of good quality referrals can’t be underestimated.
I hope these tips are helpful to any novice networkers. I try to attend roughly 1-2 networking events a month and I look forward to them, if only to have a chat with fellow business people. Here are a couple of my favourites around Sydney for freelance creatives and small business:
- The Sandpit – hosted by Creative Plus Business
The Sandpit is networking for people who hate to network. Every now and then, other creative freelancers just like you meet for drinkies and chit chat in the safe and friendly environment of the pub. It’s networking without the pressure, without the agenda and without the hype.
- Business in Heels – Individual branch hosts, created by sassy entrepreneur Jac Bowie
Imagine an event that’s social FIRST, business SECOND. You meet an interesting woman and you just CLICK. You feel compelled to FIND a way to work together or help each other. This is the CORE of Business in Heels. It’s putting amazing ladies together and letting magic happen.
- The Freelance Jungle hosted by Unashamedly Creative
The Freelance Jungle is an informal social club where you can meet other freelancers on (roughly) a monthly basis. In lieu of us having work friends, the Freelance Jungle is designed to bring us together for a couple of drinks and a bit of food for a chat.
I also love Meetups, and while I haven’t attended any new ones lately, I really enjoy seeing these micro-communities popping up. Meetups aren’t limited to networking, there are social groups, business associations, clubs and online forums using them to expand and connect their interests and agendas. > Browse for Meetups of interest.
Have you attended any new networking groups lately? I’d love to know your networking stories. The wins. The flops and any advice you might have.