Networking. Love it or loathe it, it is a rite of passage for every small business owner.

The tales we tell one another about networking; which meetings have been brilliant, which not-so-good, which meetings we’d absolutely never go back to. And how we felt! Energised, shy, frustrated and ecstatic, we all have our networking stories.

As we establish ourselves as business owners we soon realise that we [and our products or services) need to be seen, but networking and putting ourselves ‘out there’ doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially if we’ve never had to do it in a previous job.

And now in the world of Zoom, Teams and online meetings, there are new rules to learn.

The only way to get over the fear of networking is to show up and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, but a little preparation before we turn up goes a long way to helping us feel more confident and get the best outcome.

Networking does get easier, especially when we start to recognise people at different events and understand how it all works. For some people, networking is one of the most effective marketing tools they have. For some, they go once and never again. One thing is for sure, we don’t know which camp we’ll be in, unless we find out about networking for ourselves.

Before

Choose the networking event carefully – make sure it’s right for you and your business.

Networking is marketing. Marketing yourself and your business. Before you go (or login) ask yourself what you want to get from the time you’re investing in this method of marketing.
Do you want:

  • To observe and see how it all works
  • New connections
  • New sales leads
  • People to collaborate with
  • Business allies and friends
  • A catch up with colleagues and friends
  • Time out of your daily routine to work on your business
  • A great breakfast
  • To listen to a speaker or influencer

When we know what are trying to achieve, we will make better decisions on what to attend.

Tip: Check the guest list (if you can) and note who is attending, make a list of people you want to meet and why and prepare some questions you can ask if you do get to talk to them.

If you’re attending a face-to-face event, make sure you know where you’re going and leave plenty of time to get there. Wear your most comfy clothes that you won’t fidget in and if you have some, take your business cards (people do still ask for them). If you’d rather ask people to connect and stay in touch online, know your email or social media handles so you can tell them confidently.

Tip: Promote your attendance at the event on your social media channels and remember to include the organiser in the communications. This gives you a chance to ‘meet’ other attendees before you get there and is content to share.

During 

Don’t shy away!

Networking has a purpose. Unless you are there to observe only, you need to talk, chat and engage to meet new people. This may be easier in an online networking session. Always remember, you’re networking for a reason.

If you’re online networking please consider how you are presenting yourself. Much communication is lost online so presenting yourself as best as you can include:

    • Your backdrop (what do other people see around you?)
    • Your camera (how clear is it?)
    • Your microphone (can you be heard?)
    • Your internet connection (is it decent?)
    • How you’re dressed (please no PJs)
    • External noise and interruptions (kids, pets, parents, partners, phones going off – all to be avoided if possible)
    • Your demeanour (are you happy to be there?!)

Nicola with MINT Business Club sign

If you’re at a face-to-face meeting, it can be stressful walking up to people to introduce yourself. A great place to do this is at the coffee table! It is really easy to say hello when you’re making drinks.

A great tip is to ask the other person about them and their business.  This takes the heat off you for a few seconds or minutes and you can catch your breath! Listen to what they’re saying and let your conversation flow naturally from there on in.

If you hit it off, send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn and find them/their company on other social sites. This can be done before you leave the event and ensures you have an immediate, longer-lasting connection to people who are valuable to your business. And don’t worry if you don’t click with every person you meet. There are people you will and won’t stay in touch with after meeting them at networking.

Tip: Remember everyone has their own agenda at a networking meeting and you may not be part of their plans. Don’t take it personally – everyone is not our ideal connection or customer!

Give out your business card and collect others’ cards only if you’re interested in following up with that person (otherwise you’ll end up with a drawer full of cards that are redundant!). If you take a card, make sure to follow up and in a quiet moment, join in with any social media chatter about the event, using the event hashtag if there is one.

After 

Depending on the stage we are at in our business (and our own personality), networking could be considered a success if we turn up!

However, our aim should be to come away from the event with something even if it’s just a realisation that we won’t go again!

If the event has been a success and you’ve met some great people, a speedy follow-up is needed. Send a follow-up email, a private message on social channels or pick up the phone and give them a call whilst you’re fresh in mind. We all meet a lot of people when we’re networking – we need to make sure we’re remembered!

In light of the pandemic, most networking events have been swapped to online. They still all have their own agenda and formula and can be very different experiences and so won’t all suit. But don’t give up on networking if you have a bad experience, try a different type of event based on recommendations of people you trust.

I have met the best, best people at networking events and some of them have literally changed my working life – give it a go!

Let’s connect and network!

Connect with me Nicola Jayne Little on LinkedIn and follow MINT Business Club on LinkedIn too. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram & Twitter and for more information about our own member-networking sessions, visit our website.