It will soon be a year since we opened our doors for business. For me, leaving the safe environs of a corporate job and moving into the rough and tumble of the business world was a paradigm shift. Plenty of well wishers gave me tips on networking in order to make it easy for me to make that transition.
During my growing up years, I had developed into a introvert for better part of my early life. To top that, I became an accountant. Yes, that breed of professionals who are considered lonely, nose-to-the-ground and unfriendly people who stick to their books and work by themselves.
Early on I realized the importance of inter-personal skills and worked hard towards it. Over a period I had improved my communication skills. I became good at one-to-one communication and was very easy with one-to-many communication provided I knew all of them.
So when we decided to get into business, we were told by many people that networking is a great part of business building. And we did make it a critical component of our marketing plan.
In the year gone by, I have grown into myself and learnt a lot about networking. I have summarized below the 10 key attributes I learnt in the process of making our networking attempts fruitful.
- Confidence: this is not something that we are born with. It is something that we develop, usually through hard work and endeavour. It is natural, sometimes, to get diffident when pulled out of your comfort zone. And there is nowhere less comforting than a networking event. Every group will have a few people who will dominate the proceedings. There will always be those who see themselves as too important to talk to you. Don’t let them frighten you away from your networking goal. Ignore them because the majority in a good networking group will be supporting and will go out of the way to make you feel welcome. So, just keep at it and you will find your confidence index soaring high with time.
- Choose the right networking group: there are scores of networking groups out there. But not all groups of people may be the right fit for you. Select the group(s) that have the same interests as you or may have potential clients you may gain from the group.
- Give, Give, Give..: Always keep in mind that networking success can only happen if you also actively give rather than just wait to take. Remember the oft-stated truism “Karma is a bitch“. Yes that is true. What goes around will come around. If you network only with the view to get business, you will not succeed for long. You must always keep you eyes and ears open so that you are able to pass on business to your networking group as well. I know this is tough. But the way I do it is to carve some time out of my week just to explore my contact network and see if they need the services of anyone in my networking group. Those who give, will always gain.
- Connect with people over their families: Believe in the cardinal rule “the easiest way to a networking partner’s heart is through their immediate family members”. Networking is all about getting to know people and building relationships. While industry and work related subjects may be the centrepiece of conversation, what really connects people is the ability to go beyond just work and get to know their families well. Of course, you cannot do this at your very first meeting but will have to wait till the ideal opportunity opens up during conversations.
- Be prepared and practice your story: remember your aim is to let people know what you do and, hopefully, translate this into business over a period of time. Practice a one- or two-line statement that clearly describes you and your story. Practice makes you perfect and when you stand up to speak this will help you in spades. Bring your business cards to the meetings and hand them out to people who show interest in what you do.
- Be professional: remember nothing builds trust and goodwill like authenticity and integrity. Once you have made a commitment, don’t go back on your word. Last minute cancellations and changes or not following through on your commitments are the easiest way to breed mistrust and negativity. Also, in being professional be attired appropriately. Dress to the needs of the group and always portray a successful outlook.
Watch your body language: always be alert that your body is giving out strong signals all the time. So ensure that your body language exudes confidence rather than timidity. Stand with your shoulders back, head up and arms unfolded. Develop strong eye contact and have a genuine smile on your face.
- Sit down meetings: we are naturally inclined to interact with people we are most comfortable with. So, at sit down networking meetings, always sit with different people. This will help you widen your network and, possibly, introduce you to potential clients.
- Do your research: if you get the attendee list before the event, leverage it to the fullest. Go through the list and see if there is anyone specific you would like to meet. If yes, take advantage of today’s web-driven world and do some research on them. This way you can throw in some insights into your conversation with them and connect with them quicker. The more you know about the participants the less likely you will feel like you are walking into a jungle.
- Follow up: relationships require nurturing. You cannot build relationships in just one meeting. After the meeting send notes to any good connections telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Never add them to any mailing list without their permission. But feel free to send them articles / information that might by useful to them in their business.
The above list is what has made my networking initiatives take off. There is no reason why you cannot adopt them and take advantage of networking opportunities for your business. So, what are you waiting for?