Networking, if you’re not a naturally gregarious and outgoing person, can give you the chills. Some of us would rather stick pins in our eyes than have to go and represent ourselves or our employers at a networking event. Do you awkwardly try and start a conversation with a complete stranger? Or do you mill around the edge of the room feeling like a lemon trying desperately to think of something interesting and professional to say that will impress someone.
Maybe you just don’t see the point of spending a couple of hours talking to people who may or may not be your ideal clients. Whatever it is that puts you off the idea of networking here's why you should rethink it and give it a go.
I personally hate the term “networking”, not what it means but what it has come to mean. It’s cynical. Networking is actually meeting people and building relationships. Networking is not going to a meeting and selling yourself or your company hard. People who do not enjoy networking are usually the ones who feel under pressure to sell. If you aren’t a natural salesperson or you don’t feel completely comfortable representing the company you work for because you’re new then look at networking as an opportunity to meet people and learn.
Whether you are self employed or work for a business or organisation, networking is a great way to build a support system. Self employed people and freelancers often work alone and as such can feel quite isolated and unsupported. Networking gives you the opportunity to meet people in the same boat as you, share experiences and learn from each other. If you are experiencing difficulties with a client, or a certain situation, the chances are someone in the room has gone through the same thing and can offer you valuable feedback.
Networking is also a great opportunity to bounce ideas off people. If you have a new service, product or project that you’re developing, sounding out a small group of your peers before launching it can help you iron out any niggles and get some useful objective perspective.
Meeting more people gives rise to more opportunities. One of the fundamental principles of doing business is “Know, Like, Trust”. Every business needs customers and it's an impossible goal without “know, like, trust”. Your clients need to know you, like you and trust you before they are willing to do business with you. How do you speed that process up? The “know” factor. Meeting face to face is the best way to build business relationships. People only need to have met you once to feel like they know you and once they can put a face to a name they are more likely to answer that email or return that call.
Collaborating with other businesses or organisations can provide big benefits for all involved. If you collaborate with a bigger or more well known business then you can leverage their audience and tap into markets you’ve previously been unable to reach. Collaboration enables you to learn more, serve more people and can be a huge leap forward in terms of your own and your businesses development.
Most, if not all things can be learned, networking included. Like all things, the more you do it the better you get at it. If you’re not naturally comfortable speaking to people you don’t know, but you push yourself to go networking, eventually it will become one of those things that you couldn't do but now you can. We weren’t born knowing how to walk and talk but eventually we all learned.
You will get better at talking about your organisation and you’ll get better at asking the right questions and building relationships.
Essentially, networking is about meeting and talking to people. It’s not about selling. It’s about getting out there and building relationships. Letting people know who you are and what you do. When you are networking it is important to think about your long term goals. If you come away from a networking event without a sale, it hasn’t necessarily been a waste of time. Every person in that room who now knows about you and your organisation has at least 100 other people that they and can tell you about, and one of those people may need your services. Be consistent and keep showing up.