Luckily, I happen to love it. For me the value of networking is clear and it is well articulated through this personal experience: There was one individual whom I regularly met at ad tech events as we got on well. Initially, there was no relevant overlap of our businesses to partner together, but we always enjoyed catching up. The opportunity finally presented itself. At the last event where we met, we realised whilst updating each other on our businesses that there was a very relevant and lucrative opportunity to work together.
After meeting at countless events across the UK, Germany and Singapore – we were able to put that time spent building a relationship to excellent use.
Whenever people ask me about networking, I always tell that story. I think it shows how you should seize any opportunity that presents itself when it comes to growing your business network – you never know when a relevant opportunity might just fall into your lap.
But if you are part of the group that finds networking tricky – or if you are simply looking to improve your networking skills – below are some tips to help build and sustain key business relationships.
The golden rule for networking is fairly easy to master: always smile and be approachable. I am not suggesting you walk around the entire day with a forced grin that looks more like a pained grimace, but smile when you catch people’s eye, and look engaged when you are talking to someone.
First impressions count
First impressions are important as they are long lasting, so make sure that your first impression is a good one, and do not forget to follow up after the event. Remember that networking with someone is the beginning of building a long-term relationship.
Remember the environment you’re in
It can be tempting to become relaxed around someone whom you are getting on well with and forget about the professional environment you are in. I think a good point to bear in mind is to think before you speak and quickly assess if you would say the same thing to a colleague, employee, boss or client. That individual could very well be one of those in the future.
Read more about networking:
- Six tips on how to network and make true connections
- Stop doing pointless networking
- Why business owners need to think of both online and offline networking
Ask lots of questions
Do not be afraid to ask questions and dig a little deeper into what the person you are chatting to does. At the same time, ensure that your responses are clear so that there is no confusion. This will help you understand the potential scope to work together in the future.
Play it cool
Networking does not mean you have to “sell at any cost” – this, in fact, turns most people off pretty quickly. As businessmen and women who are passionate about the companies we work for, it is natural that we want to generate leads and sales. But networking is all about making connections and gradually building those relationships up over time.
Select events you attend carefully
Some pointers to bear in mind when deciding which events to attend – look at the target group, are they a useful group for you to be mixing with? What value will this group bring? Is it a group that you might need more contacts within? There is nothing more irritating than being at an event and realising that you will not be able to have a relevant conversation with any attendees.
Networking does not stop at the first meeting
To pave the way for a strong relationship with people, it is important you meet up again and again. In-person meetings are preferable as nothing beats a face-to-face when building relationships. But, if you struggle to make arrangements with people often dropping them a quick call to catch up, or emailing them an interesting article are still great steps to paving the way for a solid relationship.
Respect your contacts
Do not waste people’s time with requests or favours that are too distracting or time-intensive. It will only end up tarnishing your relationship with them. Remember that they are busy too.
Return the favour
Think about how you can help one another out, whether that is with an introduction, brainstorming an idea, or sharing knowledge about your area of expertise. Make sure the relationship is a two-way street that you both are contributing to.
Recognise your network’s value
Lastly, while it is great to help people out with introductions where you feel appropriate, it is also vital to remember that you worked hard to establish your network and to just pass it on to others freely might be a naive move. By all means help people out, but remember that you spent time building your network and that should not be underestimated.
Alternatively, we look at how you can improve your networking skills. First up, how to follow-up after a networking event.
Kristina Prokop is co-founder of Eyeota.