Whether you’re an entrepreneur with your own business, or working your way up the company ladder, a knack for networking is a valuable skill to add to your career armory.
Serial entrepreneur and co-founder of LastMinute.com Martha Lane Fox spoke to NatWest for its series explaining, ‘Being able to go out there and look someone in the eye and talk to them and do the deal... Nothing beats face to face’.
The benefits of networking are wide-ranging, from gaining new contacts and getting your name known within your industry, to giving and receiving advice with your peers and the chance to assess the competition.
If you’re new to networking or want to polish your existing skills, these tips will help you make the most of every networking opportunity thrown your way.
1. Do your research
Forget entering the room with the sole aim of finding out what canapés are on offer: you need to arm yourself with a plan of action. Ask the organisers for the guest list, then write down the names of the people you’re planning to approach. Don’t just focus on CEOs or other key players – you never know what doors could be opened by those still hustling their way to the top – and don’t spread yourself too thinly. Five minutes spent talking to 20 people isn’t as effective as devoting time to establishing a genuine connection.
2. Ask the right questions
Tailor your questions to each person you’d like to speak to – contacts will be flattered that you made the effort to find out who they are and what they do. When you’re in the room, ‘active listening’ is key - paying close attention to what people are saying rather than waiting for your turn to speak is a crucial networking skill. It makes us appear more socially attractive, and the person you’re talking to feel better understood - careful listening is a great way of cementing your connections.
3. Practice your pitch
Chances are, you already use some stock phrases when describing who you are and what you do. But like a CV, your personal pitch shouldn’t be too generic. Keep it short and pithy, and suited to the contacts you’re hoping to impress. Is there a gap in their strategy you could fill? Have you spotted any ways you could collaborate effectively? Are there ways they can help your business grow?
If a contact mentions something you could assist with outside the sphere of your business, don’t be afraid to offer help. Even better, ask them to do you a favour – which, thanks to a phenomenon dubbed the ‘Benjamin Franklin Effect’ actually makes people like you more.
4. Follow up
Set aside time after each event to follow up on those contacts you felt were the most worthwhile. Send an email as soon as you can afterwards - preferably the next day - with a brief reminder of who you are, where you met, and what you spoke about. Dropping in a compliment about their business - ‘I looked up that project you mentioned and it looks amazing’ - never hurts. If you’re keen to meet up again, offering an invitation to another networking event can be a good way of making sure you get more facetime.
Pay attention to the details
Polish your networking skills even further with these micro tips:
- Use your contact’s name as a sign of courtesy. If you’re bad at remembering them, visual associations can help.
- Don’t use your official job title if it’s incomprehensible. It might make sense within your organisation, but for networking, keep it simple so contacts can immediately grasp what you do.
- Arm yourself with a list of aims for the event, from recruiting to sussing out the competition. It will help you cut out the white noise that can obscure your objectives.
- Don’t act like you’re only there to boost your business. Taking a genuine interest in people and their brands can enhance your connections.
To download NatWest’s pitching app or to discover more about how NatWest could support you in your business goals, visit www.natwest.com/boost