business networking tips and techniques for networking events and networking websites
Business networking is an effective low-cost marketing method for developing sales opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions – either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, or by other contact methods such as phone, email, and increasingly social and business networking websites.
The shortened term ‘networking’ can be confused with computer networking/networks, which is different terminology, relating to connection and accessibility of multiple computer systems.
A business network of contacts is both a route to market for you, and a marketing method. Business networking offers a way to reach decision-makers which might otherwise be very difficult to engage with using conventional advertising methods.
In addition, business networking brings with it the added advantage of recommendation and personal introduction, which are always very helpful for developing business opportunities.
Business networking is a way for you to make the maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know..” work for you.
The principles and techniques of business networking are mostly common sense. Many of the behavioural principles apply also to business and relationships generally, and specifically to selling, managing, coaching, facilitating, etc.
(Please note that some spellings in UK-English and US-English may vary, for example words like organisation/organization, behaviour/behavior. When using these materials please change the spellings to suit your local situation.)
The word network is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (2005 revised edition) as: “Network (noun) 1 An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines… 2 A group or system of interconnected people or things… (verb) 1 Connect or operate with a network… 2 (often as noun networking) Interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Interestingly, the first definition above referring to a more general sense of a network, as might be used for a network of railways or a canal system, reminds that a network consists of connecting lines which run in different directions. Crucially a network – especially a business network – ceases to be a network if there are no connecting lines. Creating and maintaining good lines of communications, in all directions, is as important as developing contacts. We could say instead that there is really no point developing contacts unless good lines of communications are established and maintained.
The OED defines a networker as “…1 A person who operates from home or an external office via a computer network… 2 A person who uses a network of professional or social contacts to further their career.”
The first networker definition here originally referred to the use of a computer network, whereas nowadays the notion of working from home or elsewhere remotely has merged significantly with the more modern meaning of networking, in the sense of contacts and communications. The point is that while a computer is probably significant in most forms of home or remote working, what matters most these days is the networking itself (communications and relationships), rather than there being a specific dependence on a computer network.
The 1922 OED explains that network entered the English language by 1560, simply from the words ‘net work’, which referred to the act or process of fabricating a net from threads or wires.
These separated root words, ‘net work’, are very apt today. ‘Net Work’ remind us of the vital aspects of modern successful networking, by which ideally:
- we work (apply thought, commitment, effort)
- to create, grow, use, assist and enable
- our own net (network) of contacts.
A good network is created, and networking succeeds, by the application of hard work.
A network without the work produces nothing worthwhile.
Further useful points can be drawn from, and are explained in the more detailed origins and definitions of network and networking, which appear below in the summary of this article.
Day 1 of 10 days of Networking Tips
business networking – quick tips summary
Here are ten of the most important principles for effective business networking. More details are linked from each tip to bigger explanations below.
Consider that all sorts of professional people outside of the business community can also be very helpful networking contacts – for example, scientists, lecturers, educators, councillors, etc. When developing your networking plans, think beyond the people you’d typically see at other business networking events. Some of the most important connections are not business people, and consequently you need to be creative in reaching them. The examples of networking situations/methods below provides help with this later.
ten essential principles
|1. Elevator speech.||Describe yourself concisely and impressively.|
|2. Be different.||Differentiate yourself. Aim high. Be best at something.|
|3. Help others.||Help others and you will be helped.|
|4. Personal integrity.||Integrity, trust and reputation are vital for networking.|
|5. Relevant targeting.||Groups and contacts relevant to your aims and capabilities.|
|6. Plans and aims.||Plan your networking – and know what you want.|
|7. Follow up.||Following up meetings and referrals makes things happen.|
|8. Be positive.||Be a positive influence on everyone and everything.|
|9. Sustained focused effort.||Be focused – and ever-ready.|
|10. Life balance.||Being balanced and grounded builds assurance.|
Use these principles also in text-based descriptions for the web and printed materials, etc.
This is commonly called an ‘elevator speech’ or ‘elevator pitch’ – as if you were to meet a potentially important contact for the first time in an elevator at a conference and he/she asks you: “What do you do?” You have no more than 20 seconds – perhaps just 10-15 seconds – between floors to explain, and to make such an impressive impact that the person asks for your contact details.
If you talk (or write) too much, the listener (or reader) will become bored, or think you are rude or too self-centred.
Be concise. You will demonstrate consideration and expertise by conveying your most relevant points in as short a time as possible.
Here are the main points for creating your elevator speech:
|1. your name||“My name is…” Look the other person in the eye. Smile. Shoulders back. Speak with confidence. Sincerity and passion are crucial in making a strong early impression.|
|2. your business name||“I work for…” or “My business is …” Loud clear proud again. Do not ask “Have you heard of us..?” or wait for recognition.|
|3. based and covering where||“I am based…” and “I cover…” Adapt the town, city, geography for the situation. There is little value in mentioning a tiny village if you are at a global gathering, or your global coverage if you are at a local town gathering. Make this relevant to the situation.|
|4. your personal specialism and/or offering, and your aims||Be different and special and better in some way from your competitors. Be meaningful for the event or situation or group, and as far as you can guess, be meaningful for the contact. Express what you offer in terms of positive outcomes for those you help or supply, rather than focusing on technical details from your own viewpoint. Load your statements here with special benefits or qualities. Be positive, proud and ambitious in your thinking and expression of what you do. Include in this statement what your aims are, to show you have ambition and that you know what you are seeking from network contacts.|
Depending on the situation, aim to complete your explanation in less than 20 seconds.
Less is more: lots of powerful points in very few words make a much bigger impact than a lengthy statement.
It is a sign of a good mind if you can convey a lot of relevant impressive information in a very short time.
Conversely, a long rambling statement shows a lack of preparation, professionalism and experience.
N.B. In some situations your speech may flow smoother by inverting points 3 and 4, or combining them. If your organizational structure is complex do not attempt to explain it. The other person is not interested in this level of detail now – they just need to know where you operate, and an indication of scale.
While you are speaking look the other person in the eyes, and be aware of his/her body language to gauge for interest and reaction to you personally, and to help your assessment of the other person’s character and mood.
After your ‘elevator speech’ end in a firm, positive, constructive way.
Ending with a question enables more to happen than letting the discussion tail off nowhere or into polite small-talk.
Depending on the situation and visible reaction (again see body language for clues of interest) you can end in various ways, for example:
“What’s your interest here/at this event?”
“What are you most wanting to get out of this event/your visit here?”, or obviously if you’ve not already asked:
“What do you do?”
If you already know the other person’s interests and motives, for example ask:
“How would you like to improve/change/grow… (various options, for example – your own network, your own business activities, this sort of event, etc)?”
After giving your elevator speech avoid the temptation to force your business card onto the other person (unless this is the tone and expectation of the event), and certainly do not launch a full-blooded sales pitch.
Instead try to develop the discussion around what the other person wants to do, achieve, change, grow, etc.
And be on your guard for interruptions and sudden opportunities:
Many highly competent business people have a habit of interrupting and cutting short discussions when they see an opportunity.
This means you may not always finish your elevator speech, in which case allow the discussion to progress, rather than try to complete what you planned to say.
Be prepared at any time to respond effectively to an interruption like, “Okay, I get the picture – now what exactly do you need?..”