It’s a bold statement, but I’m prepared to go as far as to say that being able to network well is the single most important skill I have as a successful entrepreneur.
Why? Well, because it is the skill that brings me more opportunities to do interesting work, to build more relationships and to grow my business in more ways, than anything else I do. It’s how I promote myself, my business and the things that I feel passionate about – and it is something I feel I have become better and better at over the years.
Of course having an interest in other creative people and their ideas helps – but I thought I’d share a few more of the other things I’ve picked up about face-to face networking over the years. Here’s what I’ve learned.
- Everyone has to do it
I’ll get this one out of the way quickly. Business is built on relationships, and networking – whether it’s face to face or online or over the phone – is how we form these bonds. So, whether we like it or not, we all have to network in one form or another. Like any skill, it gets easier the more we do it, so really do just go for it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
- Give as much as you take
The biggest mistake most of us make when we go to a networking event is that we don’t go to network. Far too many of us go to sell. And it’s natural – you think, “OK, I’m going to meet lots of potential new customers, I’ve got to make the most of it” – and so you enter the room with that mindset. Over the years, I’ve discovered that this really isn’t the best approach.
Sure, you need to talk about yourself, or your product or your brand. But people probably haven’t gone there to buy something. They will have gone to the event to meet new people, and to promote themselves too.
So networking face-to-face really is one of those situations where the most important thing to focus on isn’t the product or the service you offer, or even the benefit you can bring to all these new people – instead, the key thing is you. It’s about your ability to quickly forge bonds with other people – who one day might turn into customers, business partners, mentors or even rivals – and to see where these relationships take you.
- Practice your story
You know that incredible person you met at that last networking event you went to? The one who just seemed to have the knack of getting their story across quickly and easily, in a way that was compelling and left you wanting to find out more?
Their secret is, they practice. Although it might seem like the most natural thing in the world when it’s done well, telling your story can actually be pretty tough. I love doing it now, but there was a time when it felt awkward.
So, I practiced. I thought about what I would say to people when I met them. I said it out loud to see what it felt like. I think I may have even written it down. The point is, I got used to telling my story. Not at the expense of listening to others, but just so that I always make sure I use the short time I have with someone new to the best advantage.
- Speak to anyone. You really have nothing to lose
The other thing I’ve learned is not to go into a networking event (formal or otherwise) with any kinds of preconceptions about other people.
That person who is sat slightly away from everyone, feverishly pretending to read the event programme, is probably just not a particularly confident networker. That doesn’t mean that they’re not highly competent at something else that could one day be of value to you and your business.
So seek out the people who intrigue you, and who look like they might have something interesting to say. And remember they might not always be the ones who have the most to say.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up
Tweet about the event. Post a picture of it on Instagram. LinkIn with all the people who you met and liked – and turn a one-off face-to-face connection into an online network too.
By promoting the event online, and contacting and following up with the people who made an impression on you, you’re showing not just that you’re social media savvy, but also that you feel that the initial interaction was significant enough to pursue.
So, always follow up with the people you meet, right after you’ve met them, and start the process of building a new relationship straightaway.
// Daniel Hansen, founder and CEO of Omnia Global.