So, you know how Virgin is always expanding into a bunch of different industries? How the majority of ventures that Richard Branson starts seem to always turn out on top? One of his most important secrets to success is his ability to network.
In fact, Branson believes so greatly in networking being a core ingredient to success that he requires each of his staff to have the skill set to forge connections. Branson is known for being gregarious and has trumpeted the idea that his success is because of his connections, time and time again. And, he makes a good point when he says,
“For an entrepreneur, the ability to forge connections is a great asset. When you’re conducting business in a field where you don’t have specialist expertise, it’s often the only way to get a job done right.”
Networking is a skill though. Not everyone has a knack for talking to people they consider strangers, nevermind people they admire. You can be the best at what you do in the workspace, you can be a deal closing machine but if you can’t mingle comfortably at events, conferences, cocktail evenings and the like then you’re missing out on enormous opportunities.
Related: Are You Networking Effectively?
It’s at these types of events that you can make valuable connections. Whether it be competitors, suppliers, stalwarts or clients, the first step to growth and expansion is through brilliant networking.
Approach carefully with a smile
Once you’ve spotted who you’d like to talk to don’t pounce them as soon as possible. If they’ve just arrived, stepped off the stage after giving a talk or stepped away from their exhibition stand, don’t bombard them.
Don’t be too keen. Watch and wait until they’re relaxed and settled, let them grab their coffee or drink and then walk up to them and politely introduce yourself. Smile while doing so and offer a handshake. Don’t be aggressive no matter how excited you might be. Have a solid reason for speaking to them, one that you’re willing to share and that’s of value to them.
For instance, an insight they might find interesting is a good place to start and asking them for their opinion is a sure fire way of starting a conversation.
Everyone enjoys talking about themselves, their company or whatever they’re passionate about. Don’t open with your elevator pitch.
Read the room
Give the person you’re talking to your undivided attention, show them you’re listening and know when it’s time to move on.
If you’re looking around trying to scout your next target to connect with, the person you’re talking to will know and you’ll seem extremely rude. What’s more, don’t hand over your business card or company prospectus to just anyone.
If there’s no connection and the meeting is brief or cold, don’t force it. And, the worst thing to do is to introduce yourself with your business card in hand. This can be perceived as extremely insincere.
If you’re paying attention you’ll also know when the conversation is over and when your companion is ready to say goodbye. Again, don’t force it to continue if it’s time to move on. Some quick indications of your companion becoming agitated is if they begin to shift their feet, roll their eyes or repeatedly say “right” or “mmm”.
Have a solid exit strategy
When you want to leave you should do so gracefully. It’s rude to leave a party without saying goodbye and you should treat a networking event the same way.
Before you leave, you must say goodbye to whoever you’ve spoken to. This is the right thing to do and will make it far easier to make contact again at a later stage. In fact, when saying goodbye tell them you’re going to touch base with them soon and then make sure to do it.
Your networking companions will appreciate the respectful and responsible way in which you’ve handled your dealings with them. No more is needed to kick off the start of a great business relationship.
When networking, remember that you must add value to the interaction too. You cannot appear starstruck or worse, desperate for business. Be engaging at all times but allow for a little give and take.
An ideal interaction is when both parties are able to reveal their best sides and strengths. Don’t drink too much and don’t waste your time with people who are disinterested.