5 TIPS ON PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING
I will admit my networking confidence took a major hit when moving from London to Vancouver, as every attempt to network with strangers at creative events was rebuffed. But then I realized that it was not because of me, it was the fact that Vancouverites are absolute rubbish at networking. Bizarrely, this big town’s attitude towards meeting people and networking seems to be protectionaist, and many people aren’t interested in expanding their networks. Now that I am much more ingrained in the “scene” here, I find it easier, but compared to London, this town is terrible at networking.
And while many people get slightly sickened at the thought of going out and networking, it is actually a VERY important skill. Yes, it is about meeting people in order to benefit yourself, but that’s no worse than running a business to make money. Most people who are successful in business are good at networking, or have a team who do it for them.
I learnt most of my networking skills when I had my lingerie company in London, and was forced into many situations where people were expected to network. (You know when you are expected to do this, if there is food served, it is always edible with a fork only and there is a little clip on the plate for your drink- so you can stand and move around while eating.) But most of my skills came from one of my good friend’s step mother, Carole Stone, who was a professional networker in London.
I read Carole’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Successful Networking (which I HIGHLY recommend) but I also learnt from watching her in action. She throws a Christmas party every year and I was invited a few times. This woman could successfully navigate a room of 3,000 people and make a ton of useful introductions, all in two hours.
So based on experience, what I learnt from Carole, and the mistakes I have made, here are a few tips on networking.
1. Plan what you’d like to accomplish at an event, and be reasonable. It is hard to expect that you are going to make fifteen very useful introductions in one evening, so prioritize and set yourself a goal of meeting one or two important people, and do it!
2. Do some research on these people and plan what you’d like to say. If it is an industry event, most (polite, educated, professional) people will expect to approached, so plan your “attack” carefully. People will almost always be impressed if you’ve done your research and you’re able to comment intelligently on their most recent book, acquisition, or business move. And never go straight in and ask for a job, introduce yourself first, and if you are feeling good, then ask questions like “I would love to work for your company, what qualities do you look for in employees” or “what can I do to best prepare myself to work for a company like yours?” But this can also be done later in a follow up.
3. Never spend too much time with one person/one group. Networking etiquette usually demands you spend three minutes with a person. At Carole’s parties, people somehow managed to dance around the room, switching partners every three minutes, without the aid of a conductor. That’s long enough to figure out if this person is going to be useful or not, grab their card, and move on.
4. Always, always, always make notes on the back of a card (whether it is immediately after you’ve met the person or right after the event ends, don’t wait until the next day!) and record whether this person was useful, what you may have talked about, and whether you need to follow up. I sometimes like to remind myself of their appearance, or a friend we have in common, so I can remember them easily. There’s no point collecting a bunch of business cards and then getting home and having no idea who is who.
5. Follow up by email. Whether you met the person, didn’t meet them, they didn’t turn up, or you didn’t turn up, you can still follow up. Find their email (through a contact, the host of the event, or Linkedin) and get in touch. Tell them you are sorry you missed them last night/you were hoping to introduce yourself/you wished the two of you had met and then state your case. I love this tip because if you are too nervous on the night to actually speak to someone, then you can still “benefit” by following up the next day. And if you did meet them, even if you aren’t sure how they will be of use YET, write a short email saying it was lovely to meet, perhaps reference something you talked about, (maybe include a Linkedin invitation) and you can then consider this person a “contact.”
If this is an area you need to be using more for your business, or it is something you routinely fail at doing well, I really do suggest Carole’s book, which is a short, easy to read guide with a ton of useful tips. And the more you know, the more confidence you’ll have, which is essentially the key to being a great networker.