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Sun 5 Apr 2015 05:08 PM

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How to network effectively

Liam Mooney, founder of Club Fit For Business, offers some advice on how to network more effectively

How to network effectively

As business people you’re probably all too familiar with attending networking events. Drink in hand, canapés dotted around the room, and the flowing of polite conversation. But how many of you come away having improved the position of your business? Are you networking proactively? Have you thought about what networking actually is and the importance of it?

In order to effectively utilise the time you’re investing networking, you have to be focused with a clear goal in mind and a strategy to achieve this. You also have to have an open mind … networking can happen in the most unlikely of places.

What is networking?

Networking to me is simply connecting with people on a face to face level. If you have a shared common interest, values or goals, then there is a connection. A connection means that you are probably more likely to do business with that person.

To really network effectively you have to have a 360° vision on what it is. Networking isn’t just limited to standard canapé events, it happens (or can happen) all of the time.  For example you may meet business associates in social surroundings such as gyms, restaurants, airports or shopping malls etc. In my opinion networking is better in a social context, talking about anything other than business but being aware what your connection does business wise!

Why network?

Here are some simple reasons (not an exhaustive list) why networking is so important to your business:-

• Validates your product

• Business development

• Market research and intelligence

• Market information and learning

• Boosts your market profile, you are only as strong as your network

How to be an effective networker?

Now we know what networking is, we need to make sure the time you spend on it is effective. Ineffective networking will interfere with your business, chasing dead end leads and wasting valuable time. The following simple steps offer a guide to networking effectively for a successful outcome:-

1. Plan your networking

Only attend or speak at networking events, where you know your target audience is there. Don’t go to an event just to get a tick in the marketing box. Try and get an invite list beforehand, that way you can plan carefully, who you want to speak to. Spend some time researching the companies and look for any gaps in their services where your business could assist. If you are in any doubt about the event don’t attend, it will be draining on your time and energy.

2. Attitude

Turn up with the right attitude. It’s amazing how many people turn up armed with business cards, exchanging details blindly and talking about how great they are and their business. If you have planned successfully, you will know who will be attending. Make sure you speak to that person armed with something that you can do to help their business and talk about them. The more you give then the more you will get back in return. Also, be bright, positive and informative.

Networking is all about building relationships, but if you’re building relationships with the wrong people, you’re wasting your time. Think quality, not quantity. Yes having hundreds of ‘connections’ on LinkedIn looks good but it rarely proves fruitful. Instead try creating a personal connection between you and the client you’re interested in. Resist talking business too much and use your common ground to talk about their personal lives. How did they find themselves in the world of business? Do they travel a lot? Where do they like to go? Why?

3. If you are a speaker

Being a guest speaker at an event is another great way to endorse your brand in front of new and existing clients. Having other members of your team dotted around the room doing the business development and speaking about your product, you will be reinforcing your message and immediately catching clients at the point of interest. Speaking is a great form of networking but once again is has to be in front of the right audience. There is so much preparation in planning a talk that it’s not worth doing, unless there is a captive audience. If you are speaking it is recommended that you work the event organiser and sponsors, to organise a high quality attendance list targeting your attendees.

4. Avoid chasing dead ends and remain focused

Keep in mind the goals you set out to achieve by attending the event. Remain focused on your business and how your relationship with new clients will in turn benefit your business. Be polite, yet firm. Don’t be tempted to exchange business cards with people unless there is synergy. Don’t fall into the trip of feeling like you have to meet people because this is the way networking is done. Simply say it was great meeting you on a personal level but from a business perspective there would be no need to meet at this stage.  Remember as business people your time is precious and every person you speak to must be worth the time you’re spending away from tending to your current clients.

5. Knowing when to leave the party

There is another crucial point in networking, and that’s knowing when to leave. Don’t overstay your welcome, to do so could jeopardise the hard work you’ve put in to get the client on side. Instead, leave whilst they’re feeling up beat and intrigued in your business propositions, that way they’ll have to reconnect to push the relationship further.

6. Avoid the let’s catch up for a quick coffee

If you are a business owner avoid the “lets catch up for a quick coffee” scenario. Treat yourself like a paid employee. Would you pay someone to do what you’re doing? Is there a potential payoff linked to an important outcome? If not, skip it.  If anyone does ask you to catch up for a quick coffee, ask them what they would like to talk about first and you can decide whether a meeting is required.

7. Networking in a social environment

If you bump into someone in a social environment don’t talk business … the connection is there and if you start talking business, it may make your contact feel uncomfortable. Also don’t forget their name! If you look after your networks this shouldn’t be an issue.

8. Social Media & Networking

Social media to me should be used to stay in touch with your network not to build it. You cannot beat face to face interaction.

9. Post Networking

Look after your network. A strong network is crucial to business. Also, be careful who you introduce people to in your network. Stay in touch with them and make introductions that will enhance their business. If you give you will get back.

In summary, time is king. You must work efficiently and be productive. Networking is a fantastic way to endorse your brand, promote your business, find new clients and gather market intelligence. However networking must be targeted and focussed, otherwise it becomes a drain on time and productivity.

Do’s and Don’ts from top CEOs in the MENA region

I have gathered some tips from leading business leaders in the region. Here are some of their do’s and don’ts.

Do:

• Be enthusiastic about your role and what you do.

• Show genuine interest in what other people do

• Be respectful to other people … no insensitive jokes or political gaffes!

• Try to target events where appropriate groups will attend

• Try and get an attendance list before the event, to plan your networking

• Follow-up after the meeting through email – this way its more personal.

• Build loyalty to your brand. If you are a CEO at a huge company and attend a networking event it shows a very endearing human side to the business leader. Remember you are also there to listen and take on board market interests.

Don’t:

• Get the name, job title or organisation wrong!

• Talk “shop” too much – sometimes it is nice to talk about people’s personal lives too.

• Overstay your welcome – know when to “leave a party”.

• Don’t hand out your business card unless you know there is business synergy