My first five business networking tips were all about planning, standing out and helping others. The next five, which I'm going to cover here are just as vital. The current economic climate means micro, small and medium sized businesses have to take advantage of every opportunity. Business networking is an essential item in your armoury but it's typically the smaller businesses that feel out of their depth at networking events.
Don't miss out on this fantastic opportunity to find clients and make lasting connections. A great network can mean the difference between success or failure for a business. We'll start with number 6.
6. Don't Hide In a Crowd
How familiar is this sight at business networking events: the room is split between small clumps of people who know each other and individuals who are out on their own, looking for people to talk to. If you look closer though, you may also see that some of those people in groups never change. Some people mistake networking for socialising. You're not there to chat with your friends; say hello of course, but spend some time meeting new people. It takes a little bravery but you never know where it might lead.
Here's a killer concept that'll make you stand out. Most people at networking events are nervous or unsure of what other networkers might expect of them. If you're new to networking this can be a big hurdle. You're worried about your elevator pitch, your clothes (more about this further on) or what you should say. The Net result is you're concentrating so hard on getting all these things right, you forget to employ the single most effective networking technique: your smile.
Attending a networking event can be a nerve-wracking occasion, unless you're an experienced networker. When you're nervous it's really hard to take in what people are saying to you, remember names, or just about any detail at all. That makes it twice as important to listen closely when you make a new connection. It can help if you make notes discreetly during the event. Top tip: make your notes on the back of their business card. Listen actively, with your face focused on the person you're meeting. We've all seen those "serial networkers" who are meant to be in a conversation, but whose eyes are always scanning the room looking for someone more important to speak to. If you do need to move on (and we all do occasionally) do so graciously.
9. Practice Your Public Speaking
They don't teach this in schools any more, but it's an essential skill in business. At some time, you will have to stand in front of other people and talk. Trust me, just about everyone finds this nerve-wracking. All those people staring at you, judging you. Well actually it doesn't have to be that way. You can improve your public speaking skills by hiring a coach, joining a club such as Toastmasters, or practising in front of your cat. The last option isn't ideal though as cats don't give great feedback apart from the odd disdainful yawn. However you choose to learn, the secret to improving is down to practice, practice and, yes you guessed it, practice.
10. Get Better
Which leads us neatly to our next point. If there's one guarantee in life it's that when you start something new, you won't be great at it. That takes constant improvement. Improvement come from assessing your performance, tweaking and trying again. It also comes from study. Buy a book on networking skills. Read articles like this one. A great book on presentation skills is The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
which transformed my presentations for the better. Talk to experienced networkers; ask them to tell you how you come across at events (hardly anyone ever does this, so it'll give you a big advantage immediately).
Bonus: Dress Like a Professional
I'm known for giving value, so here's a bonus tip. You may think it's obvious, but I am constantly amazed by the number of people who don't seem to know it. I've seen some shocking examples of inappropriate attire. Dress to impress, not depress. You may think you look sharp or glamorous, but do your clothes make you credible professionally? Remember, what we actually wear to work isn't necessarily what clients expect or desire to see us in. When networking, the rule is simple: wear clothes that will instil trust in you when your potential clients meet you. Sometimes that means a suit and jacket, other times it may be jeans and a t-shirt referencing an obscure internet meme. Just keep it appropriate to the group you're attending.
The Next Step
Give it a go. Find the next networking event and book yourself in. Plymouth has a number of business networking groups, some meet regularly, others are ad hoc. Some need you to become a member first, which can be quite expensive, but taster sessions are usually free. If you are new to it, just break the ice and start. If you've done it before but wouldn't describe yourself as an experienced networker, I'd suggest trying a variety of clubs to see which ones suit you best.
About the Author:
Ash Mashhadi is the founder of successful web design company,Design Inspiration. Ash helps businesses identify ways to improve the performance of their website by integrating it with their business goals. Design Inspiration has been helping businesses to promote themselves for over 18 years, both online and offline.
People who know him often refer to Ash as 'The Inspiration Guy' because he loves to help people and businesses to succeed.
He speaks on a variety of subjects, including: Using Twitter for Business, and Integrating Websites With Business Goals. He has appeared on BBC radio and national TV screens.