How to network effectively offline
How to network effectively is one of the most important lessons an entrepreneur can learn. I firmly believe that knowing how to network effectively is the key to running a successful business; and if done correctly will deliver far greater returns on investment both financially and non-financially than anything else you do. So how do you do it?
Just Go For It
I know networking can be intimidating but like anything, practice makes perfect. Take a leap and sign yourself up to an event. If you are based in London, I really enjoy the events hosted by TableCrowd. They are fun, informal opportunities to meet new people over dinner and learn something from their after-dinner speakers. I’ve made some really valuable connections with lots of like-minded entrepreneurs at events like this and it’s an easy way to test out your networking skills if you are just getting started.
Networking doesn’t work unless you do. If you want to reap the rewards of networking effectively then people have to know who you are, what you do and identify you as someone who is credible.
If you are someone who doesn’t naturally feel comfortable going up to people and joining in a conversation then I recommend you set yourself little goals and targets for each event you attend. To begin with, take baby steps and set yourself a task of meeting one new person. Every time you go to an event take another step out of your comfort zone until you feel confident.
Go with a target
Research your event before you go, find out who is attending and make a mental list of people you want to speak to and why. It is much easier to break the ice if you can walk over to someone and introduce yourself when you already have a conversation topic and outcome in mind. It might be that you have read someone’s recent blog post or they have recently finished a project that you would like to know more about – people love to talk about themselves and share their experiences. This is particularly relevant if you are about to start raising money – seek out people who have raised funding for their business before and ask them about it.
You have to build meaningful, real relationships with people. Try and make a connection over common ground out-with the world of business.
It’s easy to go to an event, speak to lots of people and exchange lots of business cards but you won’t get any real value out of your new connections unless you maintain your relationships. Reach out, follow-up, ask them what they are working on and offer to help. Which leads me nicely on to my next point…
Add value to your network and your connections in any way you can. Send them articles that might be of interest to them and their business, introduce people to your other connections who might be able to help them on projects, make referrals and recommendations and help whenever you can. Go beyond thinking “what’s in this for me?” and start thinking, “how can I help?”. If you do something for someone, they will more than likely do something for you in return when the opportunity arises.
So what happens when it comes to the point where you want to utilise your contacts for something and ask them for a favour?
This should come naturally and you should be able to do this easily if you have maintained your relationships properly. Don’t forget to make everything personal – make sure you reach out directly to your individual contacts rather than blanket spamming people.
My final point is that although networking will be one of the best things you do for yourself, others and your business, it is a slow-burn. Be patient, cultivate your relationships and add value wherever you can, because if you do great things will follow.