Ever wonder how to network correctly?
If so, don't worry... you're certainly not the only one thinking you missed the class on this!
Because, really, networking isn't something we're ever really taught to do. We're just expected to go and have a chat with a room full of people we don't know – which can be very daunting!
But it's okay.
Farillio's here to help with some quick and easy tips from 3 members of our wonderful small business community...
- The first is the wonderful Helen Martin, who's a Surrey based social media and management goddess!
- The second is kind of a celebrity in the world of freelancing and we doubt he needs that much of an introduction... it's Ed Goodman founder of Freelance Heroes and pro at networking.
- And thirdly, we spoke to Janvier Wete, who recently set up his fab app Minute, which allows people to post and view short films. Great if you've got a short tube journey and fancy something to watch!
They're real pros at networking – and we're super excited to share their tips. But before we do, let's get to grips with the basics of networking...
Business networking: where to start
A good place to start with networking as a business owner would be finding some events to attend that are in your business area and will be attended by your target audience, your peers, and/or people who you can learn from.
If you're feeling particularly unsure about attending, it might be worth asking someone to come along with you. Or if you can't rope anyone into joining you, then post about it on social media and see who's planning to go. This way, even though you might arrive alone, you can connect with someone before you get there and can make a beeline for them when you arrive! It really does help you feel a little more comfortable.
Why business networking is a great idea for a new business
So why exactly is networking so important, especially for new businesses?
Well, for starters, it's a great way to get your name out there, to make people aware of who you are and what your business is all about, and to hopefully make them want to become part of your business... whether as a customer, partner, or new supplier, for example.
As well as this, it's also interesting to see what advice other people can give you. When you're first starting out, you can feel a little like a fish out of water and it's nice to hear about other people's experiences and they're normally ready with a tip or two to help you out.
It's also nice to know you're not in this alone! Running a business can feel like a very daunting and lonely time, so it's comforting to know others are in the same boat as you – and it's a lot easier to steer towards land and a solution when there's a few of you chatting together about a common topic.
Our favourite networking tips
1. Be active and search out opportunities
Get talking to people in your current networks - friends, family, your hairdresser, people you meet walking the dog… Let them know what you do. They might just have a connection who is looking for someone with exactly your skills!
Search online for local networking groups - good places to start would be seeing if there is a LinkedIn Local meet-up, searching Eventbrite for local events, or researching your local Chamber of Commerce.
Although a lot of networking groups require you to join and attend regularly, they usually offer a couple of trial sessions before you make any long commitment, so it is worth trying out a few.
To help with pre-event nerves - try adopting a “power pose” (think WonderWoman!) - for a couple of minutes prior to the event (nip into the bathroom for some privacy if necessary!). It will give you a fantastic confidence boost. Watch Amy Cuddy’s brilliant TED talk on the subject if you need convincing!
Brush up on your elevator pitch as you may get a brief slot to introduce yourself to the group. You don’t need a speech of scintillating brilliance and wit (although I’m sure that would be great if you can pull it off!) - just a something brief, clear and confident which explains who you are and what you do.
- Helen Martin
2. Be interesting!
Be interesting and be interested. Asking, and genuinely listening, to those you meet is a far greater way to stick in someone's mind than just talking about yourself. Which allows me to add in my favourite ever quote here, from Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Also, avoid the safe opening question of "What do you do?" and try a different approach, such as "What brings you to this event?" It opens up a greater number of ways in which the conversation could go, without straying too far from your comfort zone.
- Ed Goodman
3. Be open
Don’t judge a book by its cover, because from my experience the guy with the smartest suit isn’t always the most clued on. Listen to the other person’s idea before projecting your own to them. You learn more by listening than speaking.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to know all the 'business terminologies' or say the right things. Don't be afraid about 'someone stealing your idea'.
- Janvier Wete
4. Find your community
I am still in the stage of going to a variety of networking groups to find the best ‘fit’ for me. It’s important to be open to different formats and styles, but I prefer a more informal environment to the more structured events where everyone has to give a presentation about their business. Great speakers can really make a networking event though and give it some focus.
I have found networking through social media absolutely brilliant as it gives you the chance to interact with people and get to know them before an event. Building relationships like this is key. Through social media, I have found out about been invited to different networking groups, had the chance to chair Athena meetings as a stand-in, etc. I think I would have found all this much harder if I had to do it cold without the social media warm up!
Personally, I would highly recommend social media networking as a starting point! I have found Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram all to be fantastic platforms for meeting and building relationships with people who I would not otherwise have come across in real life.
Social media gives you the chance to target your search and networking efforts by location, industry and even (on LinkedIn at least) job title. Once you have got to know people on social, you can look for opportunities to meet up at offline events.
Although LinkedIn is undoubtedly the top ‘professional’ network, Twitter is my favourite for networking (and just in general!). I would recommend finding some Twitter chats to join, in your niche and/or your local area, as these are a fantastic way of getting to know people and finding out about interesting networking events. Just make sure you are joining to add value and be social - it is really bad Twitter etiquette to just join a chat and immediately start promoting yourself/your business.
Another tip for Twitter is to use the Twitter lists function to make private lists of people you would like to network with. That way they don’t get lost in your feed and so you can engage with what they are posting much more easily. If you are attending a networking event, for instance, you could make a list of speakers and/or attendees, if you know them, so you can start interacting with them before the event.
- Helen Martin
5. Build trust and relationships
It's widely known that we develop long term relationships with those we know, like, and trust, and this (for me) is an ideal way to find out about the person behind the business. We're so much more than our name, rank, and number, and an informal chat enables me to understand whether I could do business with someone before finding out what it is they even do.
I'm not a fan of the BNI-style referral networking and, although I like informal gatherings, I do prefer some structure to them. My favourite then is one where you turn up, chat with other attendees, then listen to a talk being delivered, followed by more chatting.
Having a network of true and trusted peers is as important as the foundation stones of a building. Start to meet those you can learn from and who you can share support with.
- Ed Goodman
6. Learn from reactions
Roundtable networking is the best kind of networking for new businesses because you get an opportunity to talk about your business to an audience of people. And if your business idea is good, you will be able to tell by the way people react to it!
- Janvier Wete
7. Listen, listen, listen!
It’s not all about you - be interested in other people and what they have to offer. Try to find common ground and listen, listen, listen! Don’t just talk about yourself and your business or treat it as a chance to make a sales pitch.
One of the best networking tips I learnt (from my old boss, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of networking) is to always be looking for ways to connect people you know. Making referrals to people is a hugely powerful networking tactic - it adds value to your connections and builds really strong relationships.
Always follow up by connecting with people you meet on LinkedIn and/or whatever social networks they are active on. Continue the conversation online and follow up any potential leads.
Finally, PAY ATTENTION when someone tells you their name!!
- Helen Martin
8. Forget the business cards
Leave the business cards at home. It will have a subconscious effect on how to go about remembering those you speak with.
- Ed Goodman
9. Be yourself
Be the weird looking guy in the room, because that’s how people will remember you and your business. Don’t try to blend in, and be yourself.
- Janvier Wete
Thank you so much to Helen, Ed and Janvier for their wonderful tips – we'll definitely be using them the next time we go to a networking event!
Also, we had to add in here one of the answers that didn't quite make it into the blog! When we asked Janvier what his funniest networking story was, he came back with 'I went to this networking event last year where everyone in the room thought I was 18. I’m 27.' How funny?! We would say take it as a massive compliment, Janvier 😂
If you fancy seeing more wonderful tips on everything business and freelancing then, be sure to head over to their social channels and see what they've been up to. Check out Helen's twitter here, Ed's here and here is Janvier's!
And don't forget to follow Farillio on Twitter and let us know how you've been using their tips!