This Sunday marks one year since I relaunched Hale Portfolio to offer portfolio finance director services for SMEs across the Yorkshire region. A large part of my business growth has been as a result of networking and so I thought this was an opportune moment to look back and share what I’ve learnt from a year of putting myself out there on the Yorkshire business networking circuit –
Keep in mind that networking is essentially having conversations with people and that everyone is in the same boat. Most of us enjoy chatting and so networking should be viewed as an opportunity for chatting, just within a certain context.
Inevitably you will be asked what you do and so make sure you have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready – you don’t want to lose people whilst you try to explain what your business is about.
Many networking events will provide an attendee list. I’d recommend reviewing this before you go so you can see who will be there – this can be reassuring to know if there will be people you already know there or to identify anyone that you’d like to connect with. If applicable, consider connecting with other attendees on social media ahead of the event – this will make it easier to connect in real life.
Listen – make sure you take the time to listen to the other person’s story and ensure you have a true understanding of what they do. Ask relevant questions – there’s nothing less appealing than someone who just talks about themselves.
Be helpful – people will remember those people who have shown kindness and gone out of their way to help them. If you have listened as per #4 then you should have a good understanding of how you can help someone, whether that is sending a relevant article, informing them of potential opportunities or introducing them to someone in your network. Be sincere and without expectation of anything in return.
Don’t be too sales focused. People want to buy from people they know and trust and no one likes to feel that they are receiving the hard sell. If you can build genuine relationships through networking, then things will develop naturally.
Have a few conversation starters up your sleeve – I am British so naturally, the weather is always a go-to for me. Other options include commenting on the venue/the food/the day’s headlines.
Dress comfortably – you don’t want to be distracted by the fact your shoes are rubbing or worrying that you’ve overdone it with the power suit. If you are unsure of what to wear, then contact the event organiser in advance and they will be able to advise of what is (or isn’t!) appropriate.
Allow time – you don’t want to be rushing and arrive at the event feeling flustered. Make sure you know the venue details and have planned your journey to the venue – where will you park? How long is the walk from the train station?
Have a system for your business cards – one pocket or section of your purse for your business cards and another pocket or section to put the business cards that you have received. This could save yourself some potential embarrassment as you hand out someone else’s business card by mistake…
Take a pen! If you exchange business cards with someone then make sure you take the time to scribble down a few notes – this will help you be more specific with #12 below.
Follow up – if you want to make the most of the connections that you’ve made then you need to follow up and do it promptly. I’d recommend blocking out time in your diary for the next day for this purpose. If you said you’d do something for someone then do it! Reach out to people who you would like to continue the conversation with and ask them to meet 1:1.
Keep at it – don’t expect new business leads to come in overnight. It takes time to build relationships but if you persevere then you will get there. Trust me.
If you’d like to put any of the above into practice, below is a list of events that I have attended and would recommend to others:
I hope the lists above are helpful. Do let me know what you think about networking and if you have any other tips to share. What is your go-to conversation starter? What’s been your best (or worst!) networking experience?