If you Google the word “networking” the results you find say things like “it is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”
The concept sounds complicated and business networking is so much more than showing up at networking functions, shaking a lot of hands and collecting a bunch of cards. As with any other business acts, this process involves building and nurturing relationships, and can be a deceptively complex process.
Networking is a low-cost and effective method to market your business as your clients want to get to know the real you.
Although face-to-face meetings will always be the most trustworthy way to win someone over, (just be sure to switch on the charm when doing so) when trying to get in touch with someone who isn’t available, you should try the social media route.
Related: Are You Networking Effectively?
The most reputable website for this is LinkedIn as this offers a brief look into one’s professional life whilst holding back on what was on the lunch menu that day. Here, you can add previous clients, get them to write reviews on any work you have done for them and exchange ideas with fellow freelancers. With so many users worldwide, it really is the best way to share your online CV with the rest of the world.
Likeability is vital in order to close a deal, so if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of ‘schmoozing’, then it’s completely fine to use social media as a networking tool. The great thing about online networking, is that is allows the inner, undaunted self to shine.
Growing your network is a very rewarding process as not only will it allow you to build up your own repertoire of professionals to call on, but will also give you the chance to get out of your 20 square meter hot desk at your local coffee shop to meet and socialise with other like minded freelancers and of course, potential clients.
One thing to bear in mind is that networking is a positive activity.
It’s all about building relationships and standing out of the crowd! See it as a chat more than interview; although it’s quite clear that everyone present wants to ‘talk business’, you definitely don’t want to come off as insincere. Set your intentions for the day, and aim to achieve them.
Don’t have enough time to spend on a particular project, yet your client needs the work done now? Have you ever considered your friends and family as part of your professional network? Chances are that these people in your social circle have a variety of skills that you can utilise and benefit from.
You can even offer a trade exchange in lieu of money. But, always keep it professional, as you don’t want to taint any relationship this way.
Related: Top Ten Networking Resources
Here are five tips to growing your network:
1. Sell yourself, your unique self
It takes a lot of guts to become a freelancer. You’re already ahead of the pack, making your own decisions and finding your own clients! Well done!
You’ve already spotted something in yourself that differentiates yourself from everyone else… all that has to be done now is to convince paying clients that you can offer them skills and a service that others can’t. Present your truest self – a phony can be spotted a mile away, from the way you conduct a meeting to the quality of your work. Plagiarism doesn’t only refer to the theft of someone else’s work, but also to the theft of someone else’s character. You wouldn’t want a client to walk away from you thinking WTF!
2. Help others along the way
Remember when you relied on others for ‘a good word’ when starting out on your freelancing journey? Well now is your chance to pay it forward.
Life is all about giving. Some of the most successful business owners are the nicest guys around; Richard Branson for example has signed Bill Gate’s and Warren Buffet’s pledge to give half of his earnings to charity. Being a generous and fair person is a sure way to win clients over before you have even been introduced.
“It is not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game ever starts.” – Addison Walker
3. Have big goals
Think big! Sometimes the word realistic can really hinder our success. If everyone was realistic about what they wanted out of life, there wouldn’t be anyone making a difference in the world! We would just ‘get by’ and not much would drive us to do better and bigger things with our lives.
Test yourself, and don’t let anyone put a negative spin on your goals, so surround yourself with positive and supportive people. It will be a far more fun journey to the top.
4. Stay humble
It takes a team to build a business. Whether you’re running a one-man show, or have a team of people to call on, you need your network. And your network needs you.
You may land a great paying job this month, which will give you a much-needed boost of confidence (and cash flow), but there’s always next month, which may not go according to plan.
Never get ahead of yourself and stay down to earth, remembering how you started off. Acknowledge your limitations and stay true to who you are and what you’re good at. No one is ever good at everything.
5. Get social (media) savvy
Social media is a very public way to voice your opinion. Good or bad, it’s easily accessible to almost everyone online. It also gives your clients a chance to rate your work, offers exposure to your company thus making it more reputable and allows you to interact with your network.
It also ensures that you put out good work as there’s nowhere to hide a bad review! (But why would you ever put out anything but that).
It’s The Small Things: How To Make A Good Impression On Clients
Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.
Impressing clients who visit your office can be quite tricky. You will not want to come off as a business that is trying too hard but at the same time being too casual can be detrimental. And clients also notice small things, such as being greeted by name and offered a beverage while they are waiting for their meeting to start (like a freshly made cappuccino with just the right amount of foam).
To put your best foot forward with your clients, you will need to put in more effort than you are currently. You should invest in coffee machines for your employees and clients, and your office foyer should always be neat, clean and tidy. Your receptionist should know exactly who will be coming in on any given day. Want to make your clients feel special? Read on below for how to stand out from the crowd.
Offer them a hot cuppa (or a well-made coffee)
Offering your clients a perfectly made cup of coffee, tea or other funky coffee ideas is one of the most effective ways to make a good impression. You are showing them that you are thinking about them and care about their needs. Offering a cup of coffee also makes a person feel relaxed and at ease in a meeting.
You will find that clients are more at ease when their needs have been taken care of. Imagine a situation like this. Your client has just driven to your office through busy traffic to arrive at your office on time for a meeting. When they walk through your door, they are greeted by name and offered their choice of coffee, tea, water or another drink. They will feel welcomed and appreciated and will keep doing business with you.
Consider decor carefully
An important part of any good impression on a client is the appearance of your office. If you have decor that could be seen as offensive or that is too bright then your client might not feel comfortable in your office. It is also important to decorate according to your brand and industry to keep your office relevant for clients and employees alike.
Art that is distracting could be detrimental to business meetings, so be sure to keep your boardroom well decorated. For example, you could cover your walls in a fun wallpaper which reflects your brand or paint a feature wall and display certificates and achievements. Your decor should showcase your professionalism as well as your brand personality, but err on the side of caution with bright colours and “quirky” art.
Give them a warm welcome
You should aim to welcome your clients warmly and uniquely. For example, you could have a board up in the lobby welcoming them by name and company. Or you could have a comfortable seating area with a fun questionnaire about a simple topic, such as “How much do you love coffee?” or “How well do you know our company?”
These tactics will take minutes to complete but will garner an impressive result. If a client feels welcomed, they are likely to want to continue doing business with you.You shouldn’t overdo your efforts but you should put some thought behind your welcoming endeavours. Tell your receptionist who will be arriving on any given day and ask them to greet clients by name as they arrive for a little something extra.
Keep it clean
Your office should always be kept neat, clean, and tidy. And this goes for the kitchen too. If you have a coffee machine and accoutrements, it is important to keep these clean and shiny after every use. This will make a fantastic first impression on your client, as will an office that is kept neat and tidy.
Be sure to ask your staff to avoid leaving overflowing bins near their desks and to take all crockery and cutlery into the kitchen to be washed after lunch times. This should not only be done when a client is coming in but every day to maintain your office’s aesthetic and keep your staff happy in a healthy environment. Hire a professional cleaner to ensure that everything is cleaned and no spaces are forgotten about.
First impressions are long lasting
Making a good first impression on a client is vital to maintaining your relationship with them. Start by offering them the perfectly brewed cup of coffee or tea, and be sure that you get their order right. Ensure that your decor is carefully considered and that it reflects your brand and message correctly. Welcome your clients as warmly and as openly as possible and remember to keep your office neat, clean and tidy. This will show your clients that, not only do you care about them, but you take your work and office seriously.
Why Coffee Is The Key To Career Networking
Read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.
Coffee has become the fuel of choice for many of us. It helps to perk up our minds and bodies and can help immensely with improving productivity and stamina. But coffee can do more than simply fuel a machine – it can be used for helping to ease conversation when networking. Networking is a vital part of building your career in your industry, and can be useful for when you are looking for a new position in a different company. It can also help to build your skill set and ensure that it is up-to-date with industry trends.
Meeting people over a cup of Nescafé Alegria coffee is a great way to network. A coffee date or meeting is usually a lot less stressful and can be an effective way to understand the person you are meeting. And coffee culture is booming, meaning there are plenty of places to meet up. You might find that the meeting is a successful one, which can cement a relationship with someone who you admire and aspire to be more like. So, read on below for some of the reasons why coffee is the key to career networking.
It can eliminate pressure
Meeting someone for a coffee is more casual than meeting them in the office or at a conference. And while face-to-face networking can put pressure on even the most bubbly of people, a coffee date at a relaxed cafe will allow you to feel less stressed and pressured and can encourage you to be yourself when meeting with a mentor or potential employee.
Coffee is a fantastic bonding tool, allowing people to discover more about one another based on what drink they choose. For example, a cappuccino might show that you are an easy-going and uncomplicated person, whereas a fancy drink (caramel macchiato with a double shot of espresso, anyone?) might show that you are creative but a little highly strung. Take this opportunity to have a relaxed conversation with someone who you admire in your industry.
It does not take too long
There is nothing worse than having a “short meeting” with someone and it ends up running late. But with a coffee date, even if it is a cup of coffee in an office, this is likely not to happen. A well-made cup of coffee does not take too long to make, which means that your networking meeting or chat will not go over the suggested time of 45 minutes.
A coffee meeting should not be seen as an interview, but rather as a chat between colleagues or acquaintances. This should never run too long, as the person who you have invited for the coffee might become bored with the meeting and not pay attention to your queries or suggestions. Half an hour is the perfect amount of time to spend sipping on a delicious cup of coffee and chatting about your respective experience, careers and companies.
It can help to spark conversation
Having a chat over a cup of coffee in the office is commonplace. But it is not only used to help boost your energy levels, it can help to spark interesting can creative conversation. The same can be said of coffee and networking. This humble roasted bean can help to encourage you to speak to people who you admire and want to get to know.
At a networking event or even in the office where you are new, bonding over coffee can encourage conversation and camaraderie. If you are having a “coffee date” interview, be sure to research the person you are meeting to find out more about them and use this information in the conversation. A freshly-made cup of Nescafé Alegria will help to boost your confidence and can help you to carry the conversation, asking questions which lead to a new venture.
You will feel more comfortable
While meeting someone important in your industry should not be taken lightly, networking over a cup of coffee can help you to feel more comfortable than a formal meeting would. This is because you will be able to unwind with a coffee and chat naturally, without the stress of being in a stiff and uncomfortable setting.
Coffee is a drink that many people associate with high energy, but for others, it can allow them to unwind and feel more confident. This makes a coffee date the perfect way to connect with someone and have a successful meeting. You will feel more comfortable and will be able to hold a conversation, allowing you to get your point across without fumbling or feeling nervous. And there is also the added benefit of being able to drink some tasty coffee at the same time.
Wake up and smell the coffee
Career networking in the workplace can also help immensely in improving your position and standing in your office. You will find that meeting over a cup of coffee is one of the best ways to network. It allows you to feel less pressure and be comfortable with whoever you are meeting, no matter their level of experience. The meeting will not take too long and coffee is the perfect conversation starter.
Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event
Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.
It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.
If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.
Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:
Build your own network of people
When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.
In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.
You are your own superhero
For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.
If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.
Always be strategic about your approach
The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.
Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.
Network both online and offline
If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.
Provide more than you take
Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.