Crash Course in... Networking

- Your career's in a rut; you've had no calls from headhunters for months and, internally, people treat you like part of the office furniture. And you're not bringing in heaps of new business for the company. Time you did a bit less networking with data and a bit more with people.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

- Be strategic. 'The main reason people in small businesses want to network is to get more business,' says Martin Davies, founder of lunching organisation NRG Business Networks. 'Or they are professionally lonely and want somebody to bounce ideas off. In corporates, on the other hand, it tends to be about advancing your career. So think what you want to get out of it.'

- Who do you want to meet? Is it senior executives, politicians, competitors, or other local business people? 'Some people think it's important to know the great and the good,' says Frances Kay, author of Brilliant Business Connections (How To Books), 'but you can get valuable help from people lower down the food chain.' Find out who's attending an event, identify a target, and ask to be on the same table as them.

- Join the club. It may be a Chamber of Commerce, a trade association or a professional networking set-up such as a breakfast club - experiment and see where you feel comfortable. 'Don't just go to these places - get a role in them,' advises Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School. 'That puts you at the centre of things and gives you contact in a different way than if you just attend a conference, say.'

- Don't be a networking bore. 'If you're going to network you have to be curious, so if you've no interest in other people, don't go out,' says Kay. 'Some people just start babbling about how they've conquered the south-east sales region and now they're going to take on the north. That's what gives networking a bad name.' Listen first.

- Be memorable. Present yourself in a way that's interesting. 'Talk about yourself and your life - people love passion,' says Cooper. 'Go along as yourself, as a human being, not as your job role.'

- Follow up. Make mental notes during conversation with your new contact that give you a pretext to follow up. If they're about to go on holiday to Marrakech, send them details of that fabulous restaurant you know there. Invite them to an event you think they'll be interested in. 'Find something to thank them for - hosting the event, even just being interested in you,' says Kay. 'Thanking people is incredibly powerful, especially if you do it in front of other people.' And update your book of contacts immediately.

- Be patient. 'When you do meet people, you won't establish a relationship in one go,' says Davies. 'Our research showed that 40% of our members had picked up new business through networking within a year, but in the second year it goes up to 85%. It takes time.'

- Do say: 'So tell me more about yourself.'

- Don't say: 'Hello, I'm Giles, I'm an area sales manager. I've just conquered the south-east and now I'm taking on the north.'

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