How to Gain Maximum Value from Your Networking Time

One of the best ways to get business is through networking. That's what the majority of people I speak to tell me. So what is networking, what makes it so invaluable to its supporters and how can you maximise your networking time.

My definition of networking is

"Creating mutually beneficial relationships with like minded people with whom you can offer and receive value, knowledge and support over time"

I remember when I first established One Step Further, I went along to a network evening in central London at which various entrepreneurs and senior city executives were to speak about their businesses and what they had learnt on their paths to success.

They say that the number one fear is public speaking; death is number two and in the top five is walking into a room full of strangers. Well that evening that was firmly my number one fear. I arrived early and walked into the area where I was offered a glass of champagne and an attendee list. I scanned the list and suddenly felt that awful feeling of "what on earth am I doing here?" Senior Manager of company X, MD of Company Y, Director of ABC, I was in awe of a list of names! However, I was determined to brave it out.

As people started to arrive I smiled nervously at a few people praying that someone would take pity on me and speak to me. Fortunately they did and we had an interesting 10 minute conversation about their business. I managed to repeat that scenario 2 or 3 times that evening before being released from my fear and ushered into a room to listen to the speakers, all of which were highly entertaining and gave me inspiration for what might be achieved if you follow your passion.

That was April 2003 and all through that first year, I continued to attend similar events. I became the one introducing myself to the nervous newcomer hoping for someone to talk to.

So what changed?

I decided that if I focused on other people's business, other people's interests and engaged them in conversation it made for a much more enjoyable experience. Sooner or later most people do say, "So what do you do?" which comfortably let's you talk about what you offer without it appearing a "sales pitch"

I have also found that if you are up front about why you are at these types of event and actually say what you want people respond. I spent my first 5 or 6 networking events gaining confidence speaking to different people and learning about their businesses and getting more comfortable talking about what I offer and how it might benefit them. I have also learnt that just attending an event doesn't get you the business.

You need to have a goal for each event, be it ? help 10 people with a problem, target 5 people in sales positions or speak to 10 people in the IT industry. Having a goal gives you focus, enabling you to maximise your time and start you on the road to building meaningful and useful relationships.

Gaining contacts doesn't get you the business either. You need to have some method of follow up. For example, phoning them the next day or sending them some material or useful information to them.

Personally I send all new people I meet an email which serves 3 purposes.

1. It brings me back into their thoughts.

2. It gives them my contact details (in case they mislay my business card!).

3. I offer them the opportunity to subscribe to Quickstart, my weekly enewsletter for business owners.

I also enter all their details into my contacts database with a note about what their business is about, what we discussed and any memorable snippets about them. This also enables me to be able to refer them onto people who might be looking for their service at some future point and to send them some valuable resources or information that I subsequently come across. This approach really works for me, as this is how I have got all of my clients to date.

I have now become much more focused about which events I go to. After all if an event is not going to have people there that may generate business or business relationships in areas that my business is focused on, it is another "time stealer"

Networking is a critical part of the "marketing pie" but without careful planning and thought it can be time consuming and unproductive. In order to avoid networking becoming another time stealer, here are my top 10 tips to maximise your time at networking events.

1. Know Your Purpose - Is the event for making new business contacts, meeting possible business partners, learning about or updating yourself on industry trends or increasing your support team. Think ahead of the event so you can prepare your answer to "so what do you do?" in the context of your purpose for that specific event and your overall business goals.

2. Prepare Yourself ? dress appropriately for the event so you feel comfortable and think about how you can also stand out and be noticed and remembered. You are marketing yourself and representing your company ? how do you want to be perceived? Do your business cards act as a great marketing tool? Making time before the event to really think about impact will serve you well once you "get into" the event itself.

3. Challenge Yourself ? both a fun thing to do and something to stretch your skills. You could aim to speak to all the people in blue ties, all the people who are first time visitors (this is sometimes noted on the attendee list) get 20 business cards or find 5 people who will give you feedback on your latest marketing idea. This challenge should be connected to your overall business objectives. Random activities are not productive.

4. Seek Help From Your Host ? if you are a first time attendee or do not know anyone, ask the host to introduce you to 2 or 3 people who fit your purpose for that event. Connecting with the host is not only polite but can also enable you to optimise how and with whom you spend the limited time you have.

5. Listen, Listen and Listen ? spend time really hearing what other people are saying. Get them talking about themselves there business and what challenges they are facing. Great networkers create relationships first. Time spent listening; gathering information will enable you to really understand how you can help someone. This is always the primary activity ? give first.

6. Create Future Opportunities ? networking is a process and one off meetings are rarely going to lead to business. When you meet someone that shows an interest in what you have to offer, ask him or her if they would like to meet for coffee/lunch or would like to have a phone conversation to take things further. The follow up with prospects, suspects or potential partners takes more time but is often where the real value in networking happens. Be selective about who you do this with and again have a purpose for that follow up "coffee meeting"

7. Pay it Forward ? think about how you can help other people. Can you introduce them to a possible partner or business opportunity? Do you have some great resource that they could benefit from? This is what makes great networkers stand out from ordinary networkers. Continually ask yourself "how can I help this person?" and "What one piece of information, advice or one contact could I give to this person?"

8. Ask For Help ? Whilst listening is important getting a great outcome for yourself is equally important so knowing your purpose for the event is the first step, knowing how people can help you is also vital. Be brave and ask for what you want otherwise how will people know? Your time is precious and so each person you speak with needs to be aware, before they leave you, what it is you do, who you do it for and how they might be able to help you further.

9. Keep Circulating ? Enjoy the event, have great conversations and focus on what your purpose is. However, spending 2 hours of a 2 ½ hours event talking to one person is not making the most of the event. Develop a great moving on strategy so you don't spend too much time in one place. If a particular person is engaging and you both feel you are getting mutual benefit from the conversation ask them if they would like to meet up at a future date. Then move on

10. Review and Follow Up ? Take some time after each event to assess how successful the event was against your purpose and your challenge. Reconnect with those people you said you would and plan the meetings phone calls and actions you promised. Having taking the time to attend the event to not continue the process after the event is an unproductive activity and not good time management. As the saying goes if it's worth doing it's worth doing well and random activity at random events with random follow up is not a good strategy and not good use of your time.

©2005 Beverley Hamilton

About The Author

Beverley Hamilton is the author of Take Control of Your Time: 7 Straight Shooter Strategies for Success. To learn more, subscribe to Quickstart her free ezine aimed at business owners and consultants who want to gain more control of their time, gain more clarity for their business direction and gain more ideal clients. Go to One Step Further.

NOTE: You're welcome to reprint this article online as long as it remains complete and unaltered including the "about the author" information at the end.

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