Be people curious: networking for the less confident

A lovely client of mine runs a speech and language consultancy in Hampshire. She trains organisations to improve childrens’ literacy, language and communications skills.

This is her positive and funny experience of some informal networking and how it led to a business referral. I thought I would share this with anyone who is a less confident networker, who is wondering about how to start and whether it will work for them.

Client to me, on networking: “Go to a book launch because the wife of the man launching his book has offered to take your kids to Scouts and said she would meet you there. Go over to random woman looking lonely. Ask her if she knows anyone there. Find out she is the CEO of a very well respected organisation in Southampton which has some funding for interventions for language and literacy. Note to self: must remember to take leaflets when dropping kids off at Scouts.”

Networking can be fun

So, no one knows where it will start or lead, and it doesn’t matter, because the point is they’ve met – and each of them now knows what the other one does, when they didn’t before. Ta da!

So, where to start in networking to grow your business?

I’ve noticed that for smaller businesses and business owners, the idea of networking typically creates a strong and polarised response. Which one do you feel you are?

It’s very normal to be nervous about networking

You may be someone who imagines a room full of people who all know each other – well, everyone except you that is – and quake at the thought of having to go up and introduce yourself. You dread the question, “So, what do you do?”, knowing that you might not be able to easily or clearly articulate exactly what you do. You worry that will prevent any new contacts you do succeed in making from remembering you, or prevent you taking the conversation any further.

You may feel some, or even all, of these things:

  • That you haven’t got the skills to network, you’re not a sales person
  • You won’t be able to walk up to a stranger to say hello
  • Everyone else will know each other
  • You won’t fit in to the group – they will be more interesting / qualified / senior / corporate / knowledgeable / connected than you (delete as appropriate)
  • You won’t have enough interesting things to say
  • People won’t want to hear about you and what you do
  • That you’ll be left in the corner alone and will have to get your phone out (Sanity note: even the most confident and experienced networkers sometimes lose their energy or confidence – especially if you’re not enjoying the event overall – and do this. It’s absolutely fine, and a good chance to catch up on your emails.)

Some people simply can’t get enough of networking

You might be one of those people that loves it. All those events where people are all keen to meet each other! People from different walks of life, different industries and backgrounds, different ages and stages of work – all interested in meeting new people and making new contacts! Yay!

Not you? Then read on….

Remember: you are definitely not there to sell

You understand that you are not there to sell. You do not have to persuade anyone about anything. You are simply there to meet new people, and in doing so, it is handy to let them know – in an easy to remember way – how it is you help people or businesses in your line of work. You ask a lot of questions about the other person’s life, work and situation. You don’t talk very much.

You are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, are actively listening and not planning your next response or statement. You offer to put them in contact with a great accountant/osteopath/career coach when you find out they need one – and they’re really grateful for the reference. You are the one people want to talk to – and they will remember you. You’ll find out about common hobbies or interests; values or ideals you share; shared locations or contacts in and outside that room.

It’s about meeting people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise

And when you leave, you’ll have had some interesting conversations with interesting people – and some dull ones with others – and you might even have shared the odd business card, agreed to Link In, meet up or keep in touch with someone. They or someone they know may one day be a prospect….

If you haven’t, you don’t worry. You check your diary for the next event, and look forward to the interesting people you just might come across there. You are a great networker, and you never even realised it.

Be people curious – tips for those less confident or starting out in networking

  1. First go to anything simple and small that could even roughly be classed as networking – like my client’s book launch above. You’re the actual customer in this scenario, which is a very soft and gentle way to start speaking to others – you can simply say hi to people and ask them whether they are planning on buying the book. The conversation has started. (This is networking by the way – also known as a chat with anyone you don’t know).
  2. Then be people curious. Listen more than you talk. Find out all about what they do. Ask lots of relevant questions. Be genuinely interested. Ask about how they promote their business, what they love – and don’t love – about what they do.
  3. Be ready to say what YOU do very clearly and simply, being specific about who you really can help and what value you add. This is the hardest part for a lot of people and businesses, and something I help many of my clients with as a starting point. You can find lots of online resources to help with this with a quick Google. People will always ask, and you want to be confident, concise and clear, so they can remember you easily.
  4. And yes, get some business cards!  Moo.com is always a pleasure to deal with. Maybe not the cheapest, but quick and easy and high quality. Don’t go about thrusting them on people – you may be surprised how many people do – but as soon as you’re sharing work stories, you can offer to swap.
  5. Learn from others. When you’re having a lovely conversation with someone – work or otherwise – take a mental note of that person’s body language, what you’re talking about, who’s listening to how and have a think about why it’s so pleasurable. Then use what you learn. Liked it when someone smiley asks how long you’ve been coming to this networking group because you so relaxed? Try it yourself next time as a conversation opener. Bit bored by someone going on about themselves without much pause for a two-way conversation? Then don’t do it yourself. Love it when someone admires the passion you have when you talk about your business? Try giving that compliment back to the next person you meet.

All in all, networking is just about meeting those people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. And remember, other people are there for the same reasons as you and lots of them – even the super-confident looking ones – have either been nervous when they started out, or still are but hide it!

Be people curious, have fun and let me know how you get on. Feel free to share any good networking stories – positive or disastrous – here with me, so others can learn from your experiences too.

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