Networking for Beginners

Networking over coffeeEvery time we attend a business function such as a training course, a trade show or an annual conference we have the opportunity to network. In fact, most of us network frequently, although we may not think of it exactly that way. Networking is the social part of doing business, and it can really help both you and your business if you do it right.

One of the most important things to remember is that networking is social in nature. It’s the difference between a speech and a conversation, or between an advertising poster and a work of art. It’s something shared between two or more people and good manners are important.

These are some of the ‘little rules’ that can make your networking really pay off. This doesn’t always mean a payoff in the financial sense, although that’s likely to happen from successful networking, but also will ensure that you get more enjoyment from the networking events you attend:

1. Don’t make the mistake of being pushy or forcing yourself on others. This is bad networking behavior. Keep it informal and think of it as a way of meeting people and making friends. Networking is still at its core an unstructured person-to-person activity.

2. Be memorable. Although the tone is informal it doesn’t mean that you can’t be remembered for what you say and do during networking. This takes preparation and some strategic planning, and if you do it well both you and those you network with will get more from the event. Be a source of knowledge or even just have a couple of short jokes ready to contribute.

3. Be yourself professionally! Anything to do with business is always about image, even in informal surroundings like a networking cocktail party or golfing event. Dress well, look good, and remember that you’re not just there as yourself but you’re also representing your business. The impressions you give others will carry over into their mental picture of your organization.

4. Do some preparation. There’s always a period of introduction in every networking event, so have a brief statement ready for who you are and what you do. If you say “I publish books,” be prepared to answer a question about what kind of books you publish.

5. Remember their names. People’s names are extremely important, especially to their owners. Whenever you’re introduced to someone be sure to get their name right; listen closely and repeat the name so you won’t forget it. Use their name in your conversation and they’ll be more likely to remember your name too.

6. Be a cheerful person whenever you’re networking. Even if you find yourself talking with somebody who’s got a sad story to relate, do everything you can to cheer them up and make their day a bit brighter. People remember others that make them feel good and tend to not bother remembering those who depress them.

7. Be helpful to others. While you’re talking with somebody try to think of a way you can help them. It can be a business-related matter or even just something personal, such as recommending a book to read or movie to see. The more you help others the greater your value in their eyes.

8. Be receptive to others. Networking’s a two-way street and while you’re thinking of ways to help somebody else they might well be thinking of ways to help you. If you’re offered something, perhaps advice or a business contact, be appreciative and thank the other person for their help.

9. Keep track of the contacts you make. This can be done with a business card file or even a notebook you carry with you to networking events. Record names, companies, contact information and details of where you’ve met and what was discussed. Especially note down any commitments you’ve made so you can follow up with them later.

10. Follow-up every contact. This is one of the most important parts of networking and the key to making it successful. After the event be sure to drop the people you’ve met a brief note, sending something if that’s what you’ve promised to do, or suggesting a social meeting in a week or two.

If there is a ‘golden rule’ to successful networking it’s simply to be yourself. The rest of the rules outlined above are really just a few techniques that will be helpful in making the most out of networking opportunities. Follow them and without any extra effort you’ll suddenly find that networking adds a new dimension to the events you attend.