Networking can be both the best and worst part of being in business. The best, because the development of professional relationships in a proactive and face-to-face environment has been proven to cement both internal and external professional success, and is the most effective way for small businesses and sole traders to grow their business, but the worst, because it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and can be a highly daunting prospect.
In a previous post, we discussed tips for overcoming fear of failure in a more general sense. However, today we’re going to cover ways to combat networking nerves, exploring the specific benefits found by our Managing Director, Nicolle, in her foray into the Birmingham professional networking scene.
Nicolle recently joined the Future Faces Chamber of Commerce networking programme to connect with a variety of professionals across the West Midlands. She was already keen on networking and “getting inspired” by others, due to her belief that networking plays a crucial part in business growth and development.
Nicolle attended two events hosted by Future Faces, each featuring a different style of networking. The first, a more informal affair at the charming Birmingham Bar Opus, was geared towards the social aspect of networking. This type of event is a particularly good choice for a young professional seeking to dip their toe into networking in general, and Nicolle found it to be a wholly positive experience, describing it as a “professional environment where friendly and welcoming people could easily engage in a more relaxed form of networking”.
The second event was a more structured, formal event. Following a speed-dating style approach, attendees rotated their way round various tables chaired by professionals from a range of fields and sectors, discussing topics like leadership and methods for career progressions. This allowed Nicolle to “meet people I would not normally have the opportunity to talk to and hear their advice on how they have used leadership, motivation, and inspiration in their careers”. This was a productive and creative event due to the diversity of the attendees, and afforded Nicolle a different set of networking opportunities than the previous event.
Nicolle believes that all young professionals should take advantage of the benefits of networking. “I want everybody to know that networking is a great and usually relaxed way to meet people who could need your service but even if not, will now know about your service and tell others!” The other great thing about networking is it creates what Nicolle calls a butterfly effect: “it starts a chain reaction in the direction you need to expand your professional network”. A networking event could even be the very first step towards an exciting new career development!
So, what are the dos and don'ts of professional networking?
DO embrace the "promotion" mindset
As with many things, the key to success in networking lies largely in the mindset behind your actions. Researchers at Harvard found that people fall into two distinct categories of mindset when engaging in networking. Those in the promotion category view networking events and activities as channels for their own advancement and growth, and approach them with open mindedness and enthusiasm, while individuals in the prevention group see networking as a necessary evil that they are compelled to do but would not voluntarily choose to do.
Worryingly, this lack of enthusiasm in the second category was found to correlate to instances of underperformance in participants' jobs. Clearly, the effects of the prevention mindset last far longer than the duration of the networking event itself, and you can’t afford to let them run unchecked in your life! Instead, work to retrain your mind to view networking with positivity and open mindedness. Focus on the potential for new opportunities rather than for awkwardness, and treat everyone at the event like a potential friend and colleague. You never know what could happen!
DO focus on the collective benefits
Although the promotion mindset can seem like a self-serving approach, it can be used for the collective good. Consider the potential not just for yourself but for the company as a whole; https://hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking even if you are an entrepreneur with a small business, approach networking as a way to nourish and grow your business and brand rather than your personal connections. Networking is a two-way street, not a way to grow a fan club!
If you can’t immediately see how someone will benefit you personally, still chat with them, and exchange business cards. Chances are, you each know someone who could benefit from the new connection, and getting a reputation as a well-connected and generous professional matchmaker will do your brand image a lot of good, even if you don’t generate any direct leads for your own business, or new opportunities for your own career, first time round. Go to social events as well as ones created solely to connect people within your sector, and embrace the human possibilities of your interactions; consider what you can offer other people as well as what you can gain from them!
DON'T pile pressure on yourself
Networking can bring amazing rewards, but if you psyche yourself up too much beforehand, you can end up either tongue-tied or garrulous, neither of which makes a great impression on people! No matter what type of event, whether a social, informal mixer or a more structured roundtable style professional get-together, try to be as natural as you can, and don’t feel like you need to project airs and attitudes that you wouldn’t usually have. Networking is an opportunity to start great relationships, so why enter into those relationships pretending to be someone you are not?
Similarly, set yourself reasonable goals to meet at the event. Do you want to exchange a certain number of business cards and have a certain amount of new LinkedIn connections, or are you interested in pitching to one or two carefully chosen individuals about a specific project? If you enter an event with an outcome mapped out in your mind, you can feel confident in your actions as you move towards that goal, and a confidence in your motivations and desired outcomes will create confidence in yourself, your brand, and your communications with others.
DO follow Nicolle's top tip!
“My top tip is just throw yourself into it! For anyone looking to start networking, if your are ever caught standing on your own at an event while others are chatting in twos and threes, never be afraid to say ‘do you mind if I join your conversation?’ as no one ever says no. After all, you’re all there for the same reason!”
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