“You must try networking.” Has anyone ever been said this to you?
Networking is something we have a natural appetite for, in fact, one could say it’s in our DNA! From the moment we make the choice to interact with another person, we begin a network. It is part of survival which starts socially and environmentally before becoming a professional activity.
- How many of you have childhood friends or school friends who you still keep in contact with? They are part of your network.
- When you consider your Christmas list or contacts in your mobile phone, made up of family, friends, and peers – this is a social network.
- When playing a sport or taking up a hobby, those you engage with – are a network.
- Within employment, there are internal networks, where colleagues and peers work together for the greater good of the company.
- In our lives, we have hairdressers, dentists, doctors, chiropractors, beauticians, etc. who all form part of our network and we notice the need to build new networks when we move house to a new area or change jobs.
Our networks are formed by the people you interact with, get to know, like, trust, and want to support in the chosen activity and they want to support you in return.
It is the same within your work networking and to my mind, networking is the life-blood for business people, entrepreneurs and professionals. Within work situations there is often an invitation to join networking hence, the “You must try networking” usually followed by an invitation to a networking event.
Each networking event has its own culture and internal rules, the difficulty is this comes without any warning! If you are a newcomer it can seem to involve many people who know each other very well, making you feel like an outsider. Then you are expected to give a one-minute speech (or elevator pitch as it is also known). Everyone is looking at you while you tell them about your business or work. You may think, ”Are these people really interested in what I do?” Yes, they are.
The one-minute pitch has found its way into most business networks (in-person and online). It has a unique structure and formality which is unlike any other introduction you have made before. When making contacts or friends you don’t just have one-minute to tell them about yourself, the process happens naturally and organically and usually over a longer time! However, when both parties have the same purpose – it’s the start of a conversation. This is the same for the one-minute pitch, compare it to sending your Curriculum Vitae (CV) for an employment position or a proposal for a contract – the purpose is to progress on to interview; the one-minute speech’s purpose is to encourage further conversations.
In the business networking arena, the pitch is a proven way for effective communication and enables others to follow-up with you. Online ‘small-talk’ can be avoided and networkers can ask direct questions about what you do and how you do it, with the mutual intention to buy, exchange or be a referrer for your product/service. Practising your one-minute speech makes it easier, worthwhile, and yes, even enjoyable.
I started attending business networks in 2006; it was in-person and I would attend up to eight network events per month. Now, thanks to online networking I attend 10-15 meetings per week. That is how prevalent online networking has become and online networking is continuing to develop. When you give your one-minute speech it is to those in the room (in-person or online platform) and the numbers vary greatly (4-60+). However, now with technical advances it is possible to do ‘LIVE’ networking online when the organisers send the feed directly to Facebook or LinkedIn which has the potential for your pitch to reach hundreds, even thousands, of people!
Why is networking a lifeline for business?
It gives a place to further your client base by relationship building. Those who have a relationship with you will support you and help you to make more sales. It’s the quickest and easiest way people can find their next client, their next joint venture partner, their next referral. The interactive part (one-minute pitch) is the start of that conversation. Online events use break-out rooms which can feel less intense, but you are still expected to talk about your business for a short while.
Over lockdown, the online networking gave business and professionals an outlet to share what was going on personally, or when they found the pandemic difficult or were struggling. Business networking supported the mental health of many people – where there is a true interest in participants or members, a safe environment has been part of the networking culture to share good and bad news.
Networking is also about education. In the business world of ‘hard-knocks’, it is good to learn from one another and cover topics pertinent to business people. Often at an event, there will be a 10-15 minute speaking slot where you, a colleague, peer, or outside expert speaks on a business or management topic or indeed about a specific part of their business.
This encourages sharing, learning, and innovation and if you can speak (Woman Who Achieves Academy gives its members this opportunity) you are provided with more opportunities to show your expertise and help people to know you and your business further.
Participating in Networking Events
We have spoken about the often mandatory one-minute speech, but aside from this everyone can be interactive and engaged. The easiest way to do this is to listen attentively to others when they give their one-minute speech. Whilst listening to others, I’ve identified over 15 themes people can use in their one-minute speech, most use 1-3 themes, alongside their Call to Action and closing catchphrase (but that’s another blog or training course!)
Listening to other people’s one-minute speeches involves taking notes.
- What is the message they are communicating?
- How can they interact with you and what you do?
- Could you invite them to a follow-up call and have a 1-2-1 meeting with them?
People do love to be asked, it shows them their one-minute speech hasn’t been in vain! Be an active listener rather than spending the time distracted with other activities such as checking emails or social media.
One of the best questions you can ask another businessperson is, “How can I best help you?” Most people are quite surprised by this offer. Although we say there is no ‘direct selling’ within networking, we do expect it! So, this offer is well received and remembered. If they ask for recognition on social media, or writing a recommendation for them on social media, or giving feedback on their website – do it, follow through on the follow-up.
Follow-up is about keeping in Contact
It is easy to keep in contact with others but it needs planning. It can be the occasional, ‘How are you doing?’ email. Or a postcard, just reminding people that you’re there and that you’re interested in them and their business. As mentioned previously, it’s regarded as bad form to only ‘Sell your stuff’ at a networking meeting, it makes people think of the encyclopedia door-to-door salesperson, the persistent sales patter from a window company, or scripted sell from the phone calls which we receive out of the blue, wanting us to change our utilities (phone/electricity, etc.) or insurance due to the car accident you weren’t in!
Remember, it is all about conversations and giving enough information for the other person to talk with you later.
Does effective networking change your business?
I believe so, and we have so many opportunities now in ways which suit our personalities and the work we do. I’m often regarded as a network addict, but I have met so many interesting and wonderful people through business networking. Online networking changed my company from a ‘hobby’ business to a full-time family business.
Would my business be successful now without networking? No, it wouldn’t, because I’d be isolated. I would not understand as much about management or marketing, I wouldn’t have shared as much with others about my work. So, let’s go networking.
Choosing the right network
Finding the network which works for you is important to do this you need to experience different events – it’s a question of ‘testing the waters’. Go along to a variety of events (online and in-person) to check if you have a match and then measure your results. You need a Networking Return on Investment (ROI); some networks charge a fee, others are at no cost, some last for 30 minutes, others can last for hours, therefore, you need to ensure it is worthwhile, after all, you are investing your valuable time.
The organiser is the one who sets the meeting culture, tone background, and decides the format. You will find that you enjoy some meetings more than others! I have created a Balanced Networking Scorecard (to help measure the success of each networking event) and I also have an excel sheet detailing the networking events I’ve attended and enjoyed with the organiser’s contact details (the latter given with permission). Please contact me and I’d happily send you the documents https://card.pramaze.com/ladey-adey.
So, what will your response be the next time someone says, “You must try networking?”
Ladey Adey, Ladey Adey Publications
Ladey is a member of the Woman Who Achieves Academy and a Woman Who Partner 2021.