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Why it’s good to build a network

I’m a big networker. I attend many great events, meet new people and renew old acquaintances. Why do I do it? Quite simply because networking has become the single largest source of successfully generating new business in the 10 years since I started doing it.

So, if you are contemplating networking for the first time, here are some pointers:

1. Take business cards

I didn’t take business cards with me to the very first networking event I attended. Why not? Because I didn’t know what to expect. The first person I talked to was a bank manager. We had a great chat, after which he asked for my card. I didn’t have any. It was at his suggestion that I took business cards to all future events. The funny thing is that I emailed him thanking him for his advice and two weeks later he sent me my first client.

2. Get ready to try many different networking events

In my first two or three years “on the circuit” I attended numerous events. The truth is that I didn’t know which would be good for my business. They ranged from British Network International (BNI) sessions, to Chamber events. Some were structured, others not. Many I had to pay for, while others were free. It took time, but after a while I got to know what worked for me and what did not. The best events I go to now have only occurred because I put the work into trying them out first – it’s a bit like a pipeline. I still try new ones!

3. Do not expect instant results

Networking takes time. The idea is to gradually build relationships that may lead to business. This very rarely happens quickly. People want to know you as a person first and foremost. Like any relationship worth having, it’s likely that follow-up meetings will be arranged and you’ll see each other at other events. Then, at some stage, someone will trust you enough to engage you with their contacts. The converse is also true – you would not refer someone to your network for business if you were unsure about them.

4. Be relevant

Practice your message but keep your stories short and in context (stories are always a great communication tool). Reflect how your product or service may fit in with the person or group you’re talking with. Is it relevant? Why should they care? Avoid industry jargon where possible – the other party may not understand it.

5. Listen more than you speak

You will learn more if you listen more. It is always polite pay attention to the person chatting next to you in any case – even if there is no relevance for you. They might not be the person you wish to target, but they could well know someone who is. I have achieved many introductions in this way.

6. Always follow up – a quick hello will do

Where it’s relevant, or just because you like someone you’ve met, just stay in touch. Do not write epics, quote case studies, or bombard them with calls. Rather just stay lightly in touch, perhaps via LinkedIn or a brief ‘it was good to meet you’ email.

I hope to meet some of you at the next networking event I attend. Come and talk to me – I don’t bite!