I developed the following ten tips some years back. The list is drawn from my mentoring programme for ambitious accountants.
1 – Get in the right state, not in a right state. Keep in mind that you want to gain some value and benefit from the time you are committing to attending the networking event. You’ll need to look friendly and relaxed if you want people to be comfortable talking to you.
2 – You will be more interestING if you are more interestED. We have two ears and one mouth so we should aim to listen for twice as long as we speak. The people you meet will be more comfortable talking about themselves than listening to you.
3 – Networking is about starting to develop valuable business relationships; it’s not about ‘getting work’. People buy professional services from people they know, like and trust. You’re unlikely to meet someone who just happens to need your services the first day you meet them. You will need to keep in touch and to demonstrate that you can be trusted. For example by promising to follow up with an email or supplying some valuable information in the next day or so. Then ensure you keep your promise and create further opportunities to keep in touch thereafter.
4 – “What do you do?” Don’t pigeon hole yourself as yet another solicitor, accountant or barrister. Practice answering the question in such a way that ensures you are remembered specifically and distinctly from all of the rest of your profession. This is crucial if you want to eventually be referred and recommended.
5 – Focus on a niche not a list. Even those new acquaintances who are genuinely interested in you will quickly switch off if you try to identify all of the things you do or could do for clients. In the first instance you need to focus on a key area or topic no matter how broad your expertise and experience. I still remember one property lawyer I met many years ago who told me that he had advised on the acquisition of a number of petrol stations.
6 – Flirt as you network
F is for FUN
L is for LAUGHTER or at least having a smile on your face
I is being INTERESTED in what other people have to say
R is RESPONDING to what other people are saying through conversation
T is TALKING appropriately not extensively about yourself.
7 – You’re not alone if you feel alone. There will always be someone else standing alone who will be so pleased and relieved if you just go over and start a conversation with them. The chances of rejection are tiny. Simply introduce yourself, ask them their name and what do they do.
8 – Listen to what people say; don’t try to sell. You can only solve people’s problems or help them make the most of opportunities if you know what these are. That means listening and absorbing, not talking. If you listen well they’ll trust you and if you ask the right questions, you’ll uncover all the clues you’ll need in order to decide if you have something to offer them.
9 – Get the other person’s name and business card. Don’t offer your card until you’ve got theirs; this avoids you seeming pushy. If you didn’t catch their name when first introduced, ask again. No one objects to repeating their name to someone who evidently wants to remember them.
10 – Follow up afterwards. Having given up your time to attend the event make sure it is worthwhile by keeping your promise to follow up with each of the people you met. Even if you think that they may not be the most valuable contact remember that you don’t know who they know who could be interested in what you do.
These are just ten of the many issues that are commonly misunderstood when professionals go to networking events. Most may well be common sense – but that doesn’t mean they are always common practice.