Productive Business Networking Tips From the Pros

I don’t know about you but networking events fill me with anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting and getting to know new and interesting people, but put me in a room of strangers and ask me to “network” and I instantly forget what I know, who I should talk to and why I’m there.

However, networking events can be a great place to meet potential partners and clients (not to mention free drinks and cake). I’ve met some of the most interesting people I know at networking events but I’ve also lost a lot of time talking to people I just don’t connect with. In fact, it’s taken me years to learn how to make networking events work for me and I’m going to share my favourite tips with you in the hope that I can save you the time and effort I spent learning how to network.

Here’s some of my favourite tips on how to network effectively and productively…

1. Stop selling

It can be tempting to go straight in with the hard sell at networking events, especially when you’ve researched the person you’re talking to and know they’re your ideal customer/investor/business partner.

However, networking is about connecting, not selling. Anyone who is looking to work with or buy from you needs to be able to trust you, and gaining that trust is what networking is about. While networking isn’t necessarily about making friends, forming relationships is certainly key to forming worthwhile business connections.

Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of Business Network International, believes forming relationships is more important the finding clients…

“When times are tough, a client will leave you, but a friend won’t.”

In my experience, the people that already know and trust me become the best brand evangelists and are happy to talk me and Contactzilla up at networking events. This frees me up to have the kind of meaningful, personal discussions that are key to building relationships.

Tip: Instead of trying to sell your company, try to connect with people through personal, meaningful conversations. In my experience, people are much more likely to remember me if they like me than if I talk about my business for half an hour straight.

2. Be helpful

I’m a big believer in helping people who need help. It makes me feel like a better person and, while I never expect anything in return, I believe that good deeds come back around.

Mike Fishbein, author of Do More, Better, Faster & Happier: How to Boost Energy for Happiness and Productivity believes that helping others is an important part of networking…

“By helping people in your network get stronger, they may be in a better position to be able to help you in the future. In addition, per the law of reciprocity, people may be more motivated to return the favor.”

Tip: Don’t limit your conversation to people who can help you. Help people out by pointing them in the right direction and offering advice for free. You never know, the favour might come back two-fold.

3. Be confident

Networking is not for the timid and to get the most out of it, you’re going to have to be bold. Remember, while networking is about forming relationships and building trust, it’s not quite the same as making friends.

For example, many people wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a bar or club on their own and jumping into conversations with strangers. But this is exactly what you need to be able to do at networking events.

Adam Riccoboni, co-founder of consultancy platform MBA & Company, says you need to have the confidence to approach people in order to network effectively.

“If everyone seems to be locked in conversation, never be afraid to approach. So long as you’re polite, you’ll be welcomed into the discussion but always gauge their body language, if two people are deep in conversation, best not to butt in.”

Tip: Approaching a group of people who are standing in a circle is hard. Look for people standing in open V or U formations where there is a space for you to join, and jump right in. The worst that can happen is that they’re not interested or tell you to go away. In which case, move on to someone else. Don’t take it personally, it’s business!

4. Don’t let your relationship fizzle out

There’s no point spending time networking if you’re not going to follow up and strengthen your relationships with the people you’ve met. I’ve met hundreds of people at networking events and I can honestly say I don’t remember most of them. The ones I do remember, and who remember me, are the people I’ve kept in touch with.

Oli Barrett, co-founder of Startup Britain, believes that maintaining relationships is the most important part of networking.

“95% of networking is about keeping in touch with people you already know. Good networkers have effective networks that they keep in touch with in really helpful and smart ways. Having an effective network means you have a constant stream of opportunities in your inbox, and when you want to make something happen, you have a warm network ready and willing to take your call.”

Tip: Of course, you’ll probably want to forget some people and that’s fine, but make sure to follow up with the people you really connected with. How? Follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn and join conversations where you can. Or follow up with a personal email offering advice about something you discussed or inviting them out for a coffee to continue your discussion.

How do you get the most out of networking events? Share your tips in the comments or join us on Twitter @Contactzilla to carry on the conversation.