1. Decide what you want to get from your networking: for instance, clients, suppliers or research. It might also be you’re after best practice ideas from other sectors or a sounding board for your ideas. Forget direct selling in groups or events.
2. Pick out how you most like to network – for example online, informal or specific events. There’s not much use thinking you can build a great network on LinkedIn if you’re not up for spending time on your PC.
3. Work out your ideal balance of breadth and depth (i.e. diversity of contact and how well you know and trust contacts). Events and groups will tend to favour one or the other – choose the right ones to build your desired mix.
4. Ask open questions and really listen, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next. Questions such as ‘what’s an ideal contact for you?’ or ‘how would I know if the next person I met would make a great client for you?’ are great.
5. Tell stories of how you’ve helped people – though avoid blowing your own trumpet too much. I’ve yet to meet a really successful person that goes on and on about how great they are. Be succinct.
6. Work the room – a key tip to get started is to look out for other people by themselves and engage with them. It’s much easier than trying to break into a pair that’s locked in conversation.
7. Be curious and open to learn from everyone. Mention a problem that you’re working on and see what fresh perspective or contacts they can bring.
8. Be focused on how you can help and add value to others. Listen out for key words that can be explored further.
9. Concentrate on the person you’re speaking to – no peeking over their shoulder to see if there’s someone more interesting out there! If you want to move on, be respectful and wrap up the conversation. Ideally act the host and introduce them to someone else.
10. Review, assess and adapt on a regular basis. Your priorities will evolve as your network and networking skills develop.
Hilary Briggs is managing director of business growth consultancy R2P Ltd.