There’s no getting round it. You have to get out and about making new business connections and networking when you work for yourself. But the very thought of it makes many of us shudder. Business networking got itself a bad reputation in the past. It became associated with sleazy salesmen, back scratching, thrusting business cards and – to be frank – not the sort of people you would want to be associated with.
Far easier to stay in our home offices checking who’s doing what on LinkedIn, eh?
The truth is that even the most gregarious types find walking into a room full of strangers difficult. Everyone always seems to know each other and it’s difficult to know what to do with yourself whilst you hope that one of the groups in the room notice you and bring you into their conversation. So you aren’t alone.
We certainly understand that at KindredHQ. We start with the premise that everyone is a little nervous when they come to one of our events for the first time, so there will always be someone more experienced in the group to welcome new people and make sure that they don’t feel left out of conversation.
So, here are some ideas to help your cure your networking allergy.
1. Just be yourself
We somehow convince ourselves that we have to put on a mask and come across as the person we think others want us to be. Stop doing that! People you meet are naturally interested in you, your back story and your dreams.
Authenticity is very important, especially when people are working out whether to trust you. If you have nothing in common, then accept that you can’t be all things to all people but you will find people who you will naturally click with.
2. Be prepared
It’s worth thinking about the sort of event you are attending in advance. For example, business card swopping etiquette often varies depending on the event. See if you can find out who is expected before you arrive. A tiny bit of research before the event will mean that you can spend your time well. But don’t go overboard. Sometimes the best conversations are the random spontaneous ones when you both spot each other looking forlorn!
3. Be open-minded
Don’t go with pre-conceived ideas that it will be awful and a waste of time. You just never know. In fact, the more ready you are to try different types of events to the ones you are used to, the more likely you are to meet and connect with interesting types. It’s not a good idea to feign interest either. There’s nothing worse than someone who isn’t listening and is constantly looking over his or her shoulder for the next connection. So less ‘working the room’, and more real conversation.
Try various styles of event aside from networking events. Meetings of clubs and societies where you have shared interests make it much easier to break the ice.
4. Be informal, but professional
A casual observer will notice that there are some unwritten, but essential rules of engagement at networking events and you should be primed to pick up on the clues. For example, it should be easy to spot if two people are close in a semi private conversation. Breaking into their chat will not endear you to them. It’s nice to ask if you can join the conversation, it gives them a get out clause.
It is obvious to say, but if there is alcohol involved, don’t allow your inhibitions to slip to the extent that you do something embarrassing. And be very careful about flirting!
5. Be welcoming
Even if you aren’t the host, act as if you are. Welcome new people into the throng and do your best to make them feel comfortable. Introduce people to each other when you think they’ll have common ground. Offer your help spontaneously. You’ll get your reward many times over!
So give it a go. Practice will make perfect and it could all lead to a great business relationship.