Practical networking advice you can actually use
Networking. We all have to do it, whether we enjoy it or not. It’s a fundamental business practice for most people. However, there’s a lack of clear, practical advice on how to network better. So, whether you’re an advanced networker or a complete newbie, we’re going to be providing you with a range of practical advice to help you network. The internet is full of vague advice. I’m sure you know what we mean. Has anyone ever told you to ‘be a better you’? What does that even mean? It doesn’t help you, that’s for sure.
This advice isn’t wishy-washy. It’s practical. You can actually apply these tips when networking, and it will make all the difference. By the end of this blog, you’ll hopefully be feeling more confident about networking. If you apply these strategies and tips at networking events, you will be able to get more out of your time.
Before we look at the advice, it’s important to understand why networking is important for you and your business. If you know exactly what you want from networking events, you’ll be able to apply the following advice in a much more considered way. If you already know what you want from networking events, simply skip along to the advice!
Why network at all?
The importance of networking
You’re still here, which means you want to know the importance of networking. Great!
It will help you network better, if you know the purpose of your networking.
If you go to a networking event without a purpose, you might end up drifting around without any purpose. You’ll meet people, sure. But will you get any real, tangible results from it? Probably not. If you go with a purpose, you can spend your time meeting incredible people… whilst also working towards your own goals.
You’ll build relationships
Networking is a great way of building relationships. You get to meet people outside of your existing network, whilst consolidating and strengthening your existing relationships. This is important for personal and business reasons. At the end of the day, humans are sociable creatures. Networking is a chance to make friends and seek out opportunities.
Advancing your career
Whether you have a job or not, networking can help you advance your career. You get to find new opportunities for your business and career, whether that’s a collaboration with another company, bringing in a new client, or finding employment. The more people you know, the more career opportunities will present themselves to you.
Advice and knowledge
Networking is a great place to offer and receive advice from industry experts. Attending a networking event could put you in touch with someone who can provide an answer to one of your problems. If you’re a student or graduate, people will be more than happy to provide real-life career advice that some universities struggle to cater for within their career services.
There are many great reasons to network. The people, the atmosphere… the food and drink. Knowing what networking can offer you will help you get more out of networking. If you’re unemployed, you need to know that networking will help you find a job. Knowing your purpose will help you determine who you talk to and what you talk about.
Now let’s move onto how to network better.
8 tips to help you network
In the following section, we offer practical advice to help you network. No wishy-washy statements. These are tangible tips you can apply to your networking, that will help you network better. There is structure to the tips provided. We’ve ordered them in a loosely chronological order in regards to what you should do before, during and after you attend a networking event.
So, if you’re at all anxious about networking, aren’t the most sociable person, find you don’t get anything from networking, or just want to be a better networker, read on.
1) Know your pitch
When you network, almost everyone you meet will ask you some iteration of “What do you do for work?”
The answer may seem simple at first. You’re probably thinking that you should answer that question by telling them what company you work for, and what your job title is. If you’re a graduate, you might think to tell them your degree and your university. This, however, is a common mistake. Why?
It doesn’t highlight you as an individual with skills and knowledge that is useful to the individual. Instead, prepare a business pitch to answer this question. You’ll be asked questions like these a lot, so keep your answer fairly short, concise and try to make it memorable for you and your listener.
Consider the following examples.
Example 1: “I am a digital marketing executive at Hedgerow Marketing, what about you?”
Example 2: “In a time when the world is becoming more and more digital, I help people in the South-West grow their businesses online. I achieve this by developing their brand messages, raising their online profile, and improving their digital communications. Is that something you’d be interested in for your business?”
Example 2 is a lot stronger than Example 1 because it quickly conveys several pieces of key information and finishes with an important, direct question. You provide context and importance to your job, and how you achieve results for your clients. The question at the end not only continues the conversation but prompts the people around you to consider whether they need someone like you.
For a graduate or student, focus on your passions. What topics are you most interested in? What modules have you chosen to do? What’s a recent assignment you’ve completed that you’re truly proud of?
If you’re seeking a job, take a similar approach. Focus on your skills, knowledge and experience. Make it clear that you’re out of work or looking to change jobs. Networking events are a great opportunity to meet people with interesting ideas and advice that you can use to develop professionally, and can really help you in your efforts to find job openings.
When coming up with a pitch, don’t oversell yourself and don’t fill it with complicated industry jargon either. Keep your pitch simple at first. You can develop and change it depending on who you’re talking to. You should keep your business pitch under 30 seconds, ideally 10-15 seconds. Your pitch should answer several key questions. What you do, and how you do it. Wrap it up with a question to keep the conversation flowing in a meaningful way, and you’ll be on your way to being a networking pro.
2) Establish purpose
We’ve already briefly touched on this topic a little bit, but we’ll elaborate further here.
If you’re new to networking, it can seem overwhelming. How are you going to walk into a room full of strangers and talk to every single one of them? You don’t have to do that. Establishing a purpose or goal is a good way to make attending networking events more manageable.
Some networking events specifically target a certain demographic or industry. Some events will be attended by familiar faces and businesses. In these situations, you can focus your networking efforts more easily. However, some networking events are broad, and you really don’t know who is going to turn up, especially if you’re new to networking. In these situations, you should try and establish a handful of achievable goals.
These goals can be simple, and give you purpose when networking. For example, if you’re looking to grow your network, you could aim to meet and connect with 10 new people. If you’re looking for someone with a certain skillset, for example if you need a professional video done for your website, you might decide that your goal is to meet at least one videographer whilst networking.
This gives you focus when networking. There are often dozens or even hundreds of people at these events. You won’t have time to meet everyone, so try and decide what you want to achieve, and who you want to talk to, before you attend. Even if you don’t meet the person you were aiming to meet, the videographer for example, you can ask people at the event for their recommendations and experiences.
Networking with a purpose or goal makes networking a lot easier than walking aimlessly around a room full of strangers. As you become more experienced, you’ll become more confident. Eventually, you’ll be able to go to networking events just for the sake of meeting friends, talking to new people, and socialising. Networking can be a lot of fun.
3) Get there on-time
Get to the event on-time, if not early. This makes networking way easier for a range of reasons. The most important factor is that if you arrive early, you have the advantage of establishing yourself in the room. What do we mean by this?
If you’re the first person to a networking event, you get the first pick at the food and drink. We are of course joking. If you turn up early, you’re actually in a rather powerful position. You get to establish yourself in the room. Let’s put it this way. It’s far easier to turn up early and meet 6 strangers, than turn up late and be faced with dozens of strangers who are already networking in established groups.
Being early is a privilege. If you’re an anxious person, or not great in crowds, then turning up early will make your networking experience more manageable and less overwhelming. Once you’ve established yourself in the room by turning up early, you will have a few familiar faces you can turn to later in the event.
If you do find you’re late to an event, try and find someone you know or recognise. This is a good starting point when networking. Alternatively, be brave and introduce yourself into a group of strangers. Just make sure you have your pitch at hand.
4) Be genuine
We talk about having ‘goals’ and ‘purpose’, but you should remember that you’re networking with other human beings. Treat them like real people. Don’t treat them as potential clients, employers or employees.
All too often, people treat networking as an opportunity to advance their own agenda, sell, and make money. The art of social selling is building relationships by establishing trust. Be genuine and candid. That’s why your business pitch should be short, concise and faithful to your capabilities.
Networking is an opportunity to talk to interesting people who are in, and outside of, your network. The best approach to networking is to be genuine and engaged with everyone you talk to.
Chris Phippen, CEO and founder of Hatless Studios, has experience hiring graduates and helping them advance their careers. He is actively engaged in South-West networking groups. He suggested that those who are new to networking should be genuine because people are acutely aware of people being ingenuine. If you’re ingenuine, this reflects badly on you and your business, and can put people off from working with you. We agree.
The following two tips elaborate on this and will help you be a better, more interesting networker.
Listening is an underappreciated networking skill. By listening to those around you, you can learn, find more, better opportunities, and become a more considerate networker. Of course, it is important to talk about yourself, your business and your deliverables, but it is important to hear what other people have to say too. That way, you can join the dots within your network, identify potential collaborations or make thoughtful recommendations.
In our case, we do marketing. When people talk to us about their business, we’re listening for opportunities to offer our services. It’s not just about generating sales. Listening has led to us being involved in and supporting a range of community projects.
You will find that there is a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ mentality within networking. If you are able to make a recommendation that generates someone else (even a direct competitor) business, they will likely return the favour further down the line. We’re active and engaged in our local networks, which is why a lot of our work comes from recommendations and word of mouth.
By listening, you will become a valuable asset within your network.
Another underappreciated networking skill. Asking questions. This is important for everyone, but it is particularly important for graduates. Be actively engaged in your conversations. Asking questions displays interest and will help you better understand those within your network. When looking for a job, asking questions about people’s industry experience will help you determine your own career path.
Some great questions to ask are:
“What are your responsibilities within your company?”
“How did you find/experience the industry when you first entered it?”
“How has the industry changed or developed since you’ve entered it?”
“What’s your greatest success story?” or “What’s an experience that taught you a lot of valuable lessons?”
Ask for recommendations. Try and establish what you should be talking/asking about, and with whom.
Questions lead to answers and opportunities. Asking questions is probably your greatest tool when networking.
Now that you’re networking more effectively, meeting with the people you want to meet with, listening, asking questions, engaging, you’re going to want to consolidate some of the new contacts you’ve made.
You should be connecting with almost everyone you meet at a networking event, and the best time to do it is on the day. If you’re not on LinkedIn, or using it actively, then you’re probably missing out. LinkedIn is probably the best way to engage with your network.
Be proactive and add them on LinkedIn. Failing that, ask them for their contact details; mobile, email address, etc. Once you’ve connected, you can stay in touch and nurture the relationships you have started to build whilst networking.
Once you’ve connected on LinkedIn, you can grow your network by interacting and connecting with 2nd-degree connections. Once you’ve got the ball rolling, LinkedIn will change the way you network forever. Want to know more about LinkedIn? We provide LinkedIn training for individuals and teams, to help them get more out of the platform and improve their social selling.
The follow-up is important too. If you go to a networking event, and meet 10 new people, follow-up by sending them all a message or email. It doesn’t need to be long, and it definitely shouldn’t be salesy. Furthermore, try and strike whilst the iron is hot. Send them a message a day or two later.
A simple message like this would suffice:
“Hi x, it was great to meet you yesterday at the networking event yesterday. I thought what you were talking about was really interesting, and it’d be great to continue our conversation. Kind regards, y”
Of course, you should personalise it and tailor it as you see fit. In our experience, unless you have received clear indicators that they need your services, you shouldn’t make a sales pitch. As we mentioned earlier, people are looking to build relationships and develop trust. A salesy message undermines your relationship and the trust you are establishing.
Hopefully you’ve got some ideas on how to network better now. You might feel inspired, confident, or reassured about networking practices. There’s no right way to do networking. You’ll meet hundreds of people, all of whom will have a different approach to the practice. It’s all about finding what works for you.
No matter how you choose to network, you’re doing something positive for yourself, your business, and the local business community by turning up to networking events. It’s a great way to feel a part of a business community, and there are so many tangible benefits to networking. We hope these tips have helped you. You can even apply them, in some shape or form, to your social media. But that’s for another blog piece.
To talk to Hedgerow Marketing, take a look at our contact page!