Networking…an opportunity to broaden your professional prospects? Or a necessary evil, forced upon you by an over-enthusiastic employer? Some love networking events, others either feel compelled to attend, or just ignore them entirely. Any form of extra-curricular activity can seem like too much hard work on top of an already brimming work schedule. However, as a networking-regular myself, I can guarantee it’s most certainly worth your while making an appearance, as long as you go about it in the right way.
1. Go with the best intentions
It is screamingly obvious when someone is just looking to win new business. It portrays that person as self-absorbed and disinterested in the value of others. Go with the intention of helping fellow businesses. Both parties can benefit through open, honest conversation, and it should never be one-sided. Look to establish symbiotic long-term relationships.
2. Market yourself, not just your business
Although a professional event, this is your chance to market yourself, not just your business. Many business relationships these days are remote, via email or phone. By meeting others face to face you can quickly establish a genuine connection, and have the time to converse in a more relaxed setting rather than a formal meeting or zoom call. You may even form a new friendship while you’re at it. If a business opportunity arose from someone you had a great conversation with, you stand a better chance of them remembering you as a potential contender.
3. Remain a professional
While using the event to form connections, make sure you remain professional. While these events are usually well catered, it’s not the time to be getting drunk. Personally, I don’t drink anything at networking events. I’ve seen it happen, as soon as some people leave the office environment they relax and forget they’re technically at work, even if it is out of hours. You don’t want to embarrass yourself or be seen as the loose cannon, plus people remember – it’s a reputation killer!
4. Be happy
Don’t bother attending if you’re in a bad mood, people can read energy and it could hinder rather than help your chances of finding new prospects. If you arrive with a positive attitude, an open mind and the confidence to meet others, then you’ll achieve more value from the event. Mingling with industry professionals is an opportunity to build your business reputation, but as the face and voice you need to be on your A-game.
5. Follow-up connections
‘The Coffee Challenge’ is the latest trend doing the rounds on LinkedIn – a movement encouraging members to invite one person from their industry for a coffee catch-up, with the idea of expanding their network. A simple thought, but the ideal way of following up with the contacts made at a networking event. After all, it might be a nice way to spend the end of a working day, but what’s the point unless you or your business is benefitting?
I attend maybe one event per month and find them largely beneficial to both my professional growth and for the opportunities it brings to my business. As long as you attend with the right intentions, a positive attitude and seize the prospects that arise, you can network like a pro with nothing to lose and everything to gain.