“Do not start on a negative note” might very well be one of the first lessons in networking. This, of course, is ironic when you think of how many people hesitate to do it. If you find yourself having second thoughts about meeting new people, especially those from your niche or industry, don’t worry—it doesn’t automatically mean you’re antisocial. It could just be that you’re not networking correctly.
The very first mistake people make about networking is in how they perceive the practice. Creating a network is not just about meeting people, conversing with them and maybe getting their business card. At the end of the day, it is about founding relationships and doing steps to pursue the connections you establish. It does not mean using people. Rather, it is forming a strategic partnership where all parties benefit—you learn from your network while your network learns from you.
Networking lets you take from the experiences of other people, allowing you to get over your own fears. With the right network, you are neither lost nor alone—you have the wisdom and the ideas of your peers helping you choose the best decisions. They may not be able to give the perfect advice, but they can definitely give you leads on how you can navigate and prepare for business.
For example, imagine yourself as someone preparing for a career in the hospitality industry. Aside from providing tips, your network can give you referrals to good training organisations, as well as restaurants or cafés that can provide you with employment opportunities.
If you were a hospitality business owner, your network can be a good source of information and ideas. You may ask for their advice in solving common problems, such as lowering costs on overly expensive ingredients. Some of them can keep you updated on the newest business opportunities and may even become your investors or business partners.
If you want to network effectively, you can start by going to events attended by people who share your interests and goals. Remember these tips once you are there:
- Do not be afraid to approach people you don’t know. Chances are that like you, they don’t know anybody else and are just finding the nerve to start talking to somebody.
- Do not be too hesitant to join a conversation between two people. These people may have just met for the first time and are merely looking for a way to end the conversation. Your presence will become a welcome interruption.
- When talking to other people, make sure to be polite and to not appear too intimidating. When shaking another’s person’s hand, hold their hand firmly but never too tightly to avoid appearing too aggressive.
- Make eye contact when you talk and do not forget to smile. Give your undivided attention to the person you are talking to. Watch out for non-verbal cues such as the look on their face, the way their bodies move. Oftentimes, these will give you clues about what the other person is actually feeling.
- Do not assault the other person with questions the first time you talk to them. Open the conversation with small talk to keep them at ease and to establish rapport. Getting into business too soon turns others off quickly.
- Be polite when excusing yourself from the conversation. Give a reasonable cause as to why you must leave.
Being careful about what you say and how you say it will give you the best results. Keep in mind that “networking” as a term has many connotations, and that some of them are less than savoury. As such, you may want to be careful about using it even when talking to people you want to invite to your network.
Quality is always superior to quantity in networking. You may want to focus on meeting the right people instead of introducing yourself to as many people as possible. About one or two every event is considered good. This way, you have the time to nurture every relationship you begin. To do this effectively, remember the following tips:
- Do not email or call back immediately. You might want to give it a week before contact the other person so that they have had ample time to adjust back to their usual routine. Calling or emailing too soon will be disruptive and may cause them to be unresponsive to you.
- Do not ask for too many favours. Remember that you are beginning a relationship with a stranger. Asking for too much is considered bad form. You may want to start by asking questions first before you do ask for help in the future.
- Ask for their permission if you are going to use their name to gather more people for the network. Many people do not mind but some do and they find it intrusive.
- Respect their time and their decisions. Do not visit them unannounced and always enquire if they have the time to talk to you. Should they decline, the best course of action is to accept their choice. Being too pushy will definitely lead to a good member of your network lost.
- Do not hesitate to give help back. Again, networking is a two-way process. You will benefit from it but they should be able to benefit from you as a network as well.
Having the right people in your network can be your ace to success. That said, a good thing to remember is that despite its very close association to business, networking is all about building human relationships at its very core. Be polite and sincere, and let them see that you will be able to contribute positively as a partner.