Attending a networking group for the first time can be daunting. Despite working in PR, a sector associated with people who are brimming with confidence and know how to talk the talk, my personal style is somewhat less ‘in your face’. I will even admit to being quite shy. For me, walking into a room full of strangers is a challenge.
If you’re the same, the answer is not to hit the bottle for a confidence boost (that would be frowned on at a breakfast meeting anyway!) but to keep a clear head and remember that everyone is in a similar position.
People who frequently go to the same group have the advantage of knowing other regulars, which obviously gives them a head start. On the other hand, fresh blood is always welcome, and most people will be happy to talk to you – after all, there may be something in it for them! That may sound a little cynical, but, at the end of the day, this is the reason that most people network.
In my humble opinion, however, it is not always wise to go to a networking group simply to hunt for business. I believe a better approach is to go along to meet new people, share business experiences, learn something and have a bit of fun. If you are sociable, natural and likeable, other networkers will enjoy talking to you and finding out more about what you do. Then if they need the service you provide, you will pop into their heads and bingo!
Once you’re comfortable in a group, you could offer to give a presentation. Most networking groups like to include a talk, so why not take advantage? Keep it short and snappy, and don’t drone on about how marvellous your services are. Impart useful information and advice around your services that people will remember. Again, should they find they need those services, you’ll spring to mind.
During my year of networking I’ve changed from shy, retiring wallflower to someone who will approach the newbie in the room and ask them about themselves.. I’ve given a presentation myself with another PR, which went down very well – and we picked up some new business as a result.
If you aren’t yet networking, take a look around. Chat to people who do, ask them for suggestions. Go along with someone you know to a group that they regularly attend. If you’re a woman, might you enjoy a women in business networking group? Is there a specific group for your type of work – if you’re a crafter, a craft network, for example. Be proactive and put your head above the parapet.
Which type of networking is going to work for you is a matter of trial and error:
• Breakfast meetings are useful as less of the working day is taken up
• Late morning meetings are particularly good for working mums who can’t do early mornings
• Lunchtime networking is great for socialising, but be careful that they don’t result in a less productive afternoon
• Evening meetings can be ideal, as long as you don’t have teenagers to ferry about or babies to get to bed.
It’s a juggle, so choose whatever suits you best, or mix and match. You don’t have to go every month. Bear in mind, though, that some groups have annual fees so you may need to weigh up if you will be able to attend regularly. Others are pay as you go, which could prove more cost-effective and practical.
In truth, networking has changed my business. I have new clients, and new friends. There’s been a lot of laughter and I’ve learned some great tips from other local business people. And I know more, much more, about how everything interacts in my business community – which is proving to be pretty useful. Good luck!