We love a bit of networking here at Shake It Up Creative and that stems back to several years before the company was born too. Hence, we are experienced networkers. That doesn’t mean we get it right all the time or go to every networking event out there. It does mean that we are open to new networking opportunities and that we know how to make the most out of the networking we decide to take part in.
What is networking and why is it important?
Business networking is where business owners or employees meet each other and exchange information and ideas, usually in an informal social setting. Anyone with a business to promote or with an organisation in need can go networking; employees, self-employed, CEOs – people in any role, any level, and with any specialism.
Note that there is no mention of sales in that description and nor should there be.
Effective networking involves building a strong, connected network of people. If you only take from others (or sell), your network will be weak and degrade over time. If you mainly help, give and share, your network will be much stronger.
As Bradley Hatchett, Founder of NetworkMyClub recently said in his article:
Networking is important for business growth, by way of making connections and finding new clients. It’s also important for knowledge and confidence building. Sure, you can network online and there are some great platforms for that, (plus most people got so much better at networking this way during the pandemic) but networking in person at real, live events has a more significant impact for you and to those you come into contact with. So, if you only network online then it’s time you got out there and tried a networking event in person!
Are there rules for networking?
Everyone has their own way of networking and each event has its own rules, or guidelines at least. Some groups are ‘lock-out’ and only allow one provider for each product and service type. Others are open and there will be competitors of varying degrees in the room. Others are members only, but don’t lock people out in terms of product type.
Across the board, being professional is really important when networking. I’m not just talking about wearing the right clothes or having a perfectly designed business card (although attractive business cards do help with being memorable!). Being professional is about respecting other businesses, who they are and what they do. Especially, but not only, if they are your competition.
What do you need for networking?
Consistency and realistic expectations. Don’t expect to turn up at one networking event for a one-time visit and win a new piece of business (although, incredibly, this has happened to us before). Try not to say completely different things about your company each time you meet new people – become known for what you do and how you do it.
Manners. Hopefully it goes without saying, but be nice and treat others as you’d like to be treated. Don’t be that person that only talks about themselves and the one that people start to avoid.
Proactiveness. Be proactive and follow up after networking events, if you’re speed-networking then you can scribble names down for later and if it’s online then you can send LinkedIn connection requests almost immediately. If you network in person, go back to the office and send follow-up messages either over email or via LinkedIn. Gone are the days when we get out our rolodex and hunt for someone, it’s much more likely to be a search in our online directory or connections lists.
7 steps for effective networking
To get the most out of networking, we recommend the following:
1. Tell your story instead of trying to sell your product or service
2. Make eye contact with your fellow humans and engage!
3. Differentiate yourself – dress in brand colours, have a consistent prop or do something to be different and remembered
4. Ask for business cards or flyers and look at them when received
5. Describe yourself or your brand, concisely and impressively, practice this beforehand
6. Help others. If you manage to help others, you will also be helped
7. Seek collaboration opportunities, it’s a rewarding way to build trust and reputation
Networking for us is part of our marketing plan. Why? Because 80% of our client work comes directly from in-person networking, even if it’s via a third party who has met Rachael and then passed on her details to someone else. So we must be doing some effective networking! It’s also an enjoyable part of our jobs because we love meeting new people and learning about their businesses no matter what stage they are at.
So, go on, be brave, get out there and find a group or two that helps you enjoy networking and build new business relationships.
Rachael Dines, Shake It Up Creative