Basic networking skills are crucial wherever you are on your career ladder. Whether you’re the Managing Director of a million-pound company or a recent graduate, having a strong professional network will benefit your career.
To quote super-successful entrepreneur Richard Branson, “Succeeding in business is all about making connections.” So how should you start building yourself a repertoire of valuable and influential business contacts?
Online networking through emails and social media can only get you so far when building your business connections. Platforms like LinkedIn certainly help you to stay connected and boost your network, but they can’t match the power of face-to-face networking.
Meetings, conferences and events are all fantastic opportunities to build upon your contact base. Admittedly, entering a room full of strangers with the intention of forging new relationships can be a daunting prospect, but you can do it. Here’s how:
1. Ease yourself in
Building basic networking skills does take a little time so work your way up to tackling that room full of strangers. First practice by improving your relationships with current colleagues and acquaintances. Move on to meeting their friends and acquaintances at events. By building your communication skills and confidence you’ll be ready to tackle bigger networking events before you know it.
2. Do your homework
When attending a meeting or event, get ahead of the game and thoroughly do your homework before hand. Ask yourself:
- Who is attending?
- What do they do?
- Who do you want to speak to?
- What do you have in common?
- What are you going to say?
- What do you want to achieve?
While you don’t want to appear too rehearsed, with an action plan in mind you can enter the room feeling confident and leave it having achieved your goals. Remember, you don’t want to go straight in with ‘Let’s do business’, first you need to build a good rapport.
3. Follow up
This is where many people drop the ball. Following up with an email can leave a lasting impression on your new connections. A simple – it was lovely to meet you and you love the sound of their company or product can go a long way. This also paves the way for future communication.
If you have spoken to someone who expressed an interest in doing business with you then don’t wait to hear from them. Make the first move and make it happen.
4. Stay in touch
Meeting people and building rapport is only the first step in establishing a business relationship, maintaining contact is vital in keeping it alive. Dropping the occasional email with an interesting article, showing you remember personal details e.g. family, birthdays, holidays and asking how they are when you see/speak to them goes a long way. You could also share or comment on their posts on LinkedIn or Twitter. There are plenty of ways to stay in touch, just make sure that you do.
5. Be open minded
Don’t discount people who don’t work in your field or are at a similar level to you. Remember that everyone has something to teach you and therefore could be a valuable contact if not now, then in the future. They may have some valuable contacts themselves that they could introduce you to!
Following this basic networking advice will get you on your way to being a networking pro in no time. Happy networking!