During the Covid-19 pandemic the majority of people were isolating at home and, if they were lucky, running their business from a home office. The less fortunate were using part of the dining or kitchen table or perhaps a spare bedroom, shed, summerhouse.
Then there were the demands of the family, the worry about exercise, food, finances. Why on earth would anyone want to network during such a stressful time?
Why on earth would you want to network?
Networking should really be called ‘Marketing’. It’s a sales support that builds connections and promotes our businesses, products, services and our reputations.
And when communities are in lockdown, there is more time to talk and many actively seek connections with others – isolation is lonely; it provides the perfect opportunity to reach out, communicate and engage.
So how to go about it? By reaching out to those who will help you to grow and in turn those you can help. What can you share? What tips do you have that would make a difference to my day, my business, my life? I am sure I would find your insights invaluable and, if I see you as a credible authority, why wouldn’t I tell others?
Humans are gregarious by nature. We like to be part of the pack/the tribe. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we needed to strengthen those ties so from conferences, management/team meetings, training sessions and networking to family celebrations, pub quizzes and drinks events, everything transitioned online. Whether Zoom, Skype or MS Teams, it became the new normal to use a diverse range of apps to communicate across every divide.
Archaeologists claim that ancient sites, like Stonehenge, were not merely ritualistic but social centres. They were networks that enabled the spread of innovation, providing opportunities to barter goods and skills, and develop and strengthen ties – by marrying off sons and daughters, often to the wealthy or powerful.
Innovative ideas and products spread, virus-like, across countries and continents.
The Black Death, a historic pandemic, decimated populations and impoverished the Church, but it raised per-capita incomes, expanded consumption and commerce, and enabled the growth of guilds, These were another form of tribe, binding individuals closely, discouraging individualism but encouraging collective institutions.
In the 17th century coffee houses, “Seats of English liberty”, became the new centres of communication, fuelling ideas associated with equality, republicanism, politics and business. Those 551 London coffeehouses had a specific clientele recognised by occupation or attitude. They eventually morphed into Chambers of Commerce and gentlemen’s clubs – early EAGBs?
According to the Theory of Social Identity, our sense of self is informed partly by our ‘tribe’. Those claiming to be a “gentleman” belonged to a club corresponding to the business/ social / political identity that most defined him.
Successful leaders know their audience and choose their networks with care
What are you looking for? Single gender, formal or informal, trade related, virtual or face-to-face? What time of day suits you best? Try out a wide range to find the best events for you.
Tanya Mann Rennick, founder of The Oyster Club, describes the three pillars of a great network as: Information, Education and Support. I believe we should get all those, and more. In fact, my experience of the EAGB encourages me to add ‘Friendship’ to the list.
Attending different events may mean you meet a person who will change your life. Events can also help with Continuing Professional Development, research … and, of course, isolation.
Shrewd leaders recognise networking as a fundamental marketing tool and develop effective strategies for success
Successful businesspeople know there is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PERSONAL CONTACT whether online or face-to-face. They will track all contacts, follow ups and results, run their own events and build their own national and international associations.
Laura Hurran, founder, executive director of BNI Central London and co-national director Italy, posits 21-year plus memberships of BNI as proof that networking delivers. Her tips: see giving as a gain in itself; don’t expect business immediately; honour the event – enjoy it for itself; use LinkedIn to keep in touch and as your contact system.
Matthew Crummack, CEO of Go Compare, will probably agree. When I interviewed him, he said his database goes back to his University days. Why? Because, you never know when you may need to call on someone.
We can never have too many friends
Professor Ros Taylor, internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, CEO of RTC Leadership, author of 8 books, and one of the UK’s top executive coaches says people are born with the ability to network. She outlined the psychology of networking as: great networkers are passionately interested in meeting new people; they are good listeners; they actively look for opportunities to help; they enjoy making connections and building relationships.
If you are not naturally ‘smiley’, business coach, Erkan Ali suggests developing your soft skills. He told me that we can learn how to engage.: use the mirror, hire a voice coach, practice ice breakers and make wall flowers (those people standing alone at an event) into bosom buddies. But, as with everything, give 100% commitment.
To succeed at networking, you need clear objectives
Why do it? Why push yourself to meet complete strangers, grow your group or your followers? Define your business objectives! And your audience.
Define your business objectives! And your audience
Jane Michell, CEO and founder of a successful diet delivery service, used networking to build janeplan.com from the kitchen table into a £multimillion business. Passionate about her business, she is resolute and focused on networking. She attends as many events and groups as possible, often going to breakfast, lunch and evening meetings on the same day.
It’s important to make an impact and stand out from the crowd
Communications expert, author and speaker, Kay White says to make an impact we need to ‘show up and sparkle’. You have to enjoy it. Retail business development expert and acting coach, James Newall sees networking as a communications dance. Go with the flow and you will be open to opportunities. Greet people with a smile and a strong, confident handshake. And when you are talking to someone, keep eye contact.
Learn how to gain and maintain interest with brilliant opening gambits
Questions are generally the most effective way to open a conversation. We love to talk about ourselves, so show interest in your fellow guests. DO NOT check out the room, over someone’s shoulder, in search of better opportunities!
Act like the host, look for people standing alone, and draw them into a group. Or, if like British fashion designer and 60s icon, Zandra Rhodes, you stand out for your strong personal style, you could simply walk over to the bar and wait for people to come to you!
Maintain good manners. Talking over a guest speaker or your host, forgetting to thank them when you leave, is not endearing. And particularly annoying online, where time can be tight and the host either needs to put a point across or wants to ensure every guest has their say.
Check if there is a dress code. Inappropriate or scruffy clothes undermine your credibility. In the words of Coco Chanel: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” (or the man!)
Engage and stand out with a memorable Elevator Pitch
Ideally, the Elevator is a concise and effective definition of your business, product or service, including your value proposition, delivered in less than two minutes.
A memorable, concise and effective definition
However, in an informal setting, such as lunch at the EAGB, you need something shorter. Hone, or pay someone to write, pithy, memorable, narratives that you can call on when required. Think of it as your ‘war chest’ and remember – passion is key! Author and insolvency practitioner, Andrew Segal is renowned for his clever rhyming pitches, but then he is an expert!
Time management is key to working a room effectively
Unless you plan to spend all evening with one or two people, ten minutes or so per person is ideal. Develop techniques for moving on, like facilitating introductions. Introducing one person to another, leaves you free to move on.
Peter Lynagh, founder and CEO of ABLE, advocates your own, highly legible, badge. Those supplied at networks are often too small and can lead to embarrassing situations!
Your name, company and your role (environmentalist / management consultant / architect) is sufficient. Check with your host before taking marketing collateral to an event and make sure they are small enough for pocket or purse.
Take advantage of pre-event networking. Your preferred contacts may arrive early and leave promptly. The end of an event can be perfect for developing acquaintances as attendees often stay back to talk to the speaker or catch up with latecomers.
Follow Up is critical to your success
Without follow up, you have wasted valuable time, far more finite than money.
If you exchange cards, make notes on the back of the card you have just been given. It is surprising how many people forget to put critical information on their business cards. A week later and you might find it difficult to work out what they do and why you wanted to keep in touch.
Smart phones help: scan cards or badges, make notes and transfer information to your CRM system. Some events, particularly online, provide lists of attendees or invitees – very useful.
Will your follow up be via email, phone, social media? Nigel Botterill, CEO and founder of Entrepreneurs Circle uses InfusionSoft to manage his contacts and takes the long view. He keeps them until ‘they buy or die!’
Keep in touch. Implement helpful, informative follow up strategies that develop your relationships. If you promise to connect, send information or meet up, don’t forget. It only takes one small thing to undermine that first, good, impression.
How do you know your networking is delivering?
Review annually. Have you achieved your original objectives? Do they need refining? Are you making useful contacts? Is there long-term gain? Will you be able to develop strong relationships? Are these the right networks for you?
- Identify Objectives
- Research and Select
- Have Passion and Focus
- Look the Part
- Icebreakers and Wall Flowers
- Work the Room
- Connect and Engage
- Listen Attentively
- Be Present and Enjoy
- Exit Gracefully
- Follow Up Enthusiastically
- Develop Relationships