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Networking – how to rise to the challenge…

By March 26, 2018March 15th, 2019Advice, Marketing, Networking, News, Small Business

For any small business, whether trading for years or in the start-up phase, networking is crucial. Meeting new and potential clients, finding your place in the market, understanding how your local economy works, or simply making like-minded friends – we all know networking is important, but why do so many of us find it so difficult?

Unless you are someone who has always been confident, gregarious and ready to take centre stage, taking the time out to attend special business breakfasts, lunches or other business social events is quite a daunting prospect. Even though social media has become a very important way to engage, there is nothing quite like meeting someone face to face and having that initial conversation about your business. Those meetings can lead to business friendships that can be mutually supportive, even if not financially advantageous. So how best to approach them? Here are a few ideas:

Be sincere – no one likes a fake and there is no point in pretending to be something you are not, even to cover your embarrassment at walking into a room full of strangers. Chances are you are not alone in feeling slightly shy and putting on an act can be exhausting and unproductive. Don’t just think of the person you are talking to as a business opportunity as it will show. Good networking is not about talking to as many people as possible and handing out business cards willy nilly. It is about building real relationships.

Talk with passion – but don’t over do it! It is really inspirational to talk to someone who really believes in what they do so be that person (why are you in the business if it is not something important to you?). But don’t get too techy, or sound like a show-off. It might seem a fine line to tread, that tightrope between the good sales pitch and the blatant brag but you can usually tell by reading the other person’s body language. Learn the signals and act accordingly…

Listen and ask questions – sometimes you will gain more by saying less and really hearing what the other person has to say. Even if you can’t take the conversation further then, a memory might be triggered later and an opportunity present itself. You might also find out that another contact you have made would be a perfect match, and if you can show that you are happy to work to everyone’s advantage, not just your own, you will get a reputation as someone to talk to.

Follow through – if you say you want to take a conversation further, then make sure you email or call as soon as possible after the event, even if it is just to say you enjoyed the meeting.

Why not join a local networking group? Chambers of Commerce and small business associations will often promote get-togethers and keep an eye on social media for open invitations. Free workshops are also great opportunities to learn and to make new contacts. It might be difficult but it is important. Follow this advice and in the end it could be something you actively enjoy.