Who says tradition is out? OK, I have my digital camera. I love email. I’m an avid blog reader. I know what the credit crunch is. I’m even following the American election trail, via Twitter (only on alternate weeks though). But, some things just work. So, when it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What am I whittering on about? Networking! Yes, you can network via Facebook or you can tweet your way through the day on Twitter (and these are fantastic business tools), but traditional networking, i.e. talking face-to-face, cannot be replaced.
Following the set-up of our business we were encouraged to join business networks and gave up after a very short period of time when the only type of people we met were like us, all new and shiny but impoverished. Certainly not the type to be needing our services. Then, attracted by the 10 Tips for Sales Success free seminars, we felt we might be judging too harshly and attended a few more. Things were different. We’d simply had a couple of bad experiences. The time was well-spent. We received canny business advice from those who’d been doing it long enough to know how to succeed but not long enough to look jaded. We met our logo designer. We realised the NI business world is a very small one.
It takes practice and initially it can feel incredibly daunting, if now downright terrifying. These people know what you’re trying to do, they see you coming with your proudly flourished business card and flyer. The thing is, once you start talking, the old hands are entirely encourging. Some may even mistake you for an old hand yourself, if you maintain your composure. On the other hand, I’ve met some seriously nervous and frightened people at such events. I’ve almost offered confidence coaching sessions for free on occasion! If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’ve blogged this at least once before. This is different. Here’s what NOT to do:
- The number one killer mistake. Never leave immediately after the speaker stops talking. You are missing the most important part of the event. How can you network if you’re already in your slippers and tucking into your cocoa? If you have problems with speaking to strangers, you may find some of our QUB Open Learning events useful and inexpensive; they start at £23.
- Never feel pressured to try to get speaking to everyone. In your haste, you may miss that one perfect project/customer/supplier or opportunity. Start with the person sitting next to you. Set yourself a target number of three people to try to speak to, even if it’s only “Hello, I’m…”. Next time, you’ll recognise a few faces and be able to venture further than exchanging business cards. By the way, you can find cool business card holders on StreetCards.
- Never think you’re the only new entrepreneur in the room. Chances are more than 1/3 of those in the room are still in full-time or part-time employment, waiting on the right moment to make the jump. It’s OK to admit that you’ve not made the jump yourself; you will get lots of encouragement and sage advice.
- Remember people love to talk about themselves. Never hog the conversation. This will make people avoid you in future and could hinder many sales. Be careful to ask what the other person does. If they can’t seem to stop telling you about the new equipment at the veterinary surgery, it’s time to excuse yourself; that’s perfectly OK, this is about talking to lots of people and they will expect it.
- Follow-up is crucial. Never forget to develop all interesting contacts. If you meet someone, follow up with an email. If you get on extremely well and there may be potential for working together, suggest meeting for a coffee.