One of my best friends has always been a natural-born networker. Her style was chill, social and sincere with a whole lot of talent to back it up. Honestly, from the age of 12 I had no doubts the girl was going to have a million connections and 100% work as a manager – and now she is, a very successful one.
Meanwhile, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever ‘networked’. I just kind of goof around and hope that it seems employable. Frankly the same goes for the rest of my life, but the point is: some of us are born networkers, some of us are awkward af and have to practice. Everyone else is somewhere in-between.
Luckily, there are people who can help us with this. Like Suzi Manley, the creator of Five Foot Rope Business Connective which host networking nights for small businesses.
She reckons there are three main things you should know about networking.
First, it’s 100% worth the effort. “Networking is one of the most economical and fun ways to grow your business. Done right your ROI is potentially huge,” she says. Second, you need to get a little deeper for effective networking.
“Building relationships is the key to good networking, not just collecting as many business cards as you can,” Suzi explains.
“Get to know the other people in your chosen group first then learn about their business second. We always encourage our members to use the ‘Know, Like, Trust’ principle. Get to know someone. Do you like them? Do you trust them enough to refer them to your Mum?”
“It goes towards building stronger relationships with other business owners which in turn leads to better, organic referrals. In many instances, it also results in collaboration opportunities. These can be the foundation of you growing your business.”
Finally, give it time. Good networking doesn’t fall into place overnight.
“It takes time, and like anything you will get out of it what you put in,” says Suzi, “You must find the right group for you and your business then put in the effort to build up a presence in that group.”
Of course, it’s possible to be a little over-eager. So how do we know where to draw the line between ‘networking’ and ‘low-key stalking’/ just generally being a pain in the butt?
For starters, don’t just randomly contact someone on LinkedIn if you’re never met IRL.
“I believe that cold-contacting anyone on any platform is poor form and is not an effective way to build relationships,” Suzi suggests.
“I was once told that you can go onto your phone at a networking event, go into LinkedIn and the app will find the other people in the room that are also on LinkedIn and then you can send an invite. I found this creepy and invasive.”
“Whenever you contact anyone through any social media platform it should be done respectfully and for the right reasons. If you have met the person in real life, then ask them if you can connect on LinkedIn or Facebook etc.”
“If you haven’t met them in real life but you notice you have a lot of mutual contacts, then send an invite or friends request with a message advising them that you noticed you have many mutual contacts and would like to connect with them and learn more about their business.”
She also recommends staying away from personal or sensitive topics. Don’t be misleading or tell lies, because it’s going to come back to haunt you. Also, no matter what event you’re networking at, keep it professional.
“For example don’t get drunk, don’t get into peoples personal space, don’t discuss others in the room negatively, don’t swear or tell inappropriate jokes,” recommends Suzi, “You are the face of your business. Act accordingly.”