Thursday, 01 August 2019
How should entrepreneurs network? From your opening gambit to following up potential leads, we take you through what you should and shouldn’t do
Before the event
To make the most of any networking event, try to get a list of attendees first. Then – without being too stalker-ish, obviously – research their names online. Look at their social media feeds. What are their interests? Do they have any opinions about your sector/industry? This will help you formulate questions and potential conversational topics. If your event has a Twitter hashtag, use it to interact with other people who might be attending. Also, develop a succinct description of your business (an elevator pitch) that you can recite if need be. Make it snappy – no more than 30 seconds. And don’t forget to read up on any news/events prior to the event, so you can appear as an expert within your field. This might seem like a lot of work, but doing such preparation is the most effective way of pre-empting any anxiety and nerves.
Walking into the room
Entering into a room of unfamiliar faces is always the most nerve-wracking part of any networking event. First, take time out to scan the room and observe body language and any social groups that may have formed. Is there anybody here you know? If not, is there anybody else who appears to be on their own, like you? Is there a mini-party breaking out by the drinks table? These are all good people to strike up a conversation with. Avoid large gaggles of people who know each other, and whatever you do, don’t barge into two people having an in-depth conversation, as they’ll clearly resent you for interrupting their tête-à-tête.
Ditch the pitch (for now)
You’ve identified the people you’d like to speak with. But how do you break the ice? One of the worst techniques is to confidently stride up to a stranger, thrust your business cards in their hands, and then deliver a 10-minute spiel about why your business is so wonderful. Instead, focus on developing a friendly rapport with that person instead. Try to engage them in small talk by finding some common ground: a shared joke about the quality of the canapés (make sure you’re not speaking with the caterers!), previous events, the temperature of the room, or even how much you loathe networking events. Admit to not knowing anybody else in the room: people may courteously introduce you to other contacts. But don’t head into conversations with the sole intention of selling your product/service – there are few things people find more off-putting.
Telling others about your enterprise
Hopefully you’ve prepared your 30-second elevator pitch. The trick is knowing exactly when to drop it into conversation. After a few minutes of small talk, you’ll probably be asked the inevitable question, “What do you do?” But if that question doesn’t arise, ask this question to whoever you’re talking with.
If people do show an interest in your business, don’t reel off a litany of facts, stats and KPIs. Instead, share stories. Deliver anecdotes where you’ve helped customers/clients, or just amusing (but positive) tidbits of info about your product/service. And avoid brain-befuddling marketing-speak at all costs.
Entrepreneurs are, by nature, curious people. They are experts at scanning strangers or the marketplace for new ideas, searching for things that nobody else has thought of before. In a networking environment, you can use this to your advantage. Networking sessions aren’t there for you to sell yourself or your business: they’re equally beneficial if you want gather information too. So, when speaking with a stranger, ask questions about their own business, their opinions on the future of the sector/industry, plus whether there’s anybody else at the event you should meet. And if they utter something interesting, hastily make a memo in your smartphone. It’ll flatter them and give the impression you’re genuinely interested (even if you’re not).
And if you’re an introverted networker?
The prospect of meeting strangers face-to-face might make you tremble like a pneumatic drill inside, but remember this: introverts make outstanding networkers. For a start, they’re very extremely skilled listeners; adept at picking up on verbal cues that could result in future business leads. Don’t fret about selling yourself or saying something clever: just give others the chance to talk. You’ll gain much more than any big-mouthed braggart who dominates conversations by gabbling away about themselves.
After the event…
Following up after a networking session is essential. Neglect it and sadly, all that hard work you’ve put into schmoozing could be to no avail. Did you speak to anybody who could be beneficial for your startup? Email or DM (direct message) them on LinkedIn, telling them how you enjoyed your conversation the previous night and would like to find out more. Always help others out by informing them of relevant opportunities or introducing them to your own contacts – they’d be much more likely to return the favour.
Networking on social media
Of course, networking isn’t only done face-to-face. The best way to network online is by positioning yourself as a thought-leader within your sector/industry. You can do this by sharing articles on Twitter, penning LinkedIn blogs (if writing isn’t your strong point, seek help from a freelance copywriter) and getting involved with conversations on both platforms (Facebook is generally used less, professionally). This gives you the chance to show you’re an expert in your field, as well as demonstrating any passion you may have for your business.