Professional networking 10-step checklist
Small Business Guides
6 min read
Professional networking can be daunting and it’s probably more art than science. Yet it’s something most entrepreneurs need to do and do well. We spoke to Forward Ladies, the UK’s leading women’s networking and support organisation, to find out how you can get the most out of networking.
Networking pays off
Putting yourself out there will have a significant pay off. Networking can get your business noticed. It can lead to referrals, valuable business opportunities and increased sales. But where to start – and what to keep in mind? Griselda Togobo, Managing Director of Forward Ladies answers these questions. Her business uses networking as a tool to boost skills, help people connect, and promote the contribution of women in the workplace.
10 ways to network like a pro
Forward Ladies say that the good news is there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to networking. Choose the options that best suit you. And don’t be afraid to mix it up as you become more experienced. Take part in online forums. Join business networks. Attend training days, awards dinners, networking breakfast events and conferences.
Whether you want to wade in and do it all, or simply dip your toe in the water, find out how to get the most out of networking.
1. Aim to build relationships
Professional networking is a social activity. It’s about building relationships – so leave the hard sell behind. Instead, be open and get to know people. Ask them about themselves and why they’ve come along to the event. What are they hoping to achieve? What have they enjoyed? What did they make of that certain speaker or presentation topic?
Use networking as an opportunity to share ideas and build your knowledge. Discussing a conference topic with someone next to you will expand your understanding of the subject and help you see things from another perspective.
2. Make networking part of your job
Prioritise networking by making it part of your role – and the roles of your employees. Add it to job descriptions. Make it part of your firm’s approach to professional development and training. Plan for it by adding specific networking events to your company calendar. Be a guest speaker or consider hosting a networking event of your own.
Create a company culture that sees networking as a legitimate tool for gathering information about the market, increasing business contacts and meeting like-minded people.
3. Do your homework beforehand
Prepare for a networking event as you would for any other business meeting. Dress the part. Find out who else is attending the event (if you can). Learn a bit about what they do and what you might have in common to make conversation easier.
Consider familiarising yourself with the general news of the day – just in case you need to make small talk.
4. Show belief in your business
Tap into your passion for your business when you’re at professional networking events. Show belief in your product or service and share your story. It’s a good way to dampen your nerves and boost your confidence in intimidating crowds. Your enthusiasm and positivity will help others feel that way about you and your business too.
5. Listen and ask questions
Listening and asking questions sounds obvious, but it can be all too easy to jump in and dominate conversation when there’s time pressure.
If you feel jittery, remember to take a breath, stand back, and let others talk. It builds rapport and shows you’re interested. Maintain eye contact to show you’re listening and ask questions. Respond positively. Think about and reflect on what people share with you. Be authentic.
If you want to get the conversation started with people you don’t know, use small talk or chat about something in the news.
6. Speak to as many people as you can – within reason
Working the room can be a challenge – so many people, so little time. If you move too rapidly from person-to-person, it can can seem rude and insincere. But if you don’t have a strategy, you may regret not meeting that once-in-a-lifetime contact because you ran out of time.
If you want to meet specific people, wait near them for an opportunity to introduce yourself – even if it takes a bit longer than anticipated or seems awkward. Just remember, it’s probably too good an opportunity to waste. Tough it out and make yourself do it.
7. Give out your business card
Business cards are a quick, easy way to share your contact information and refer people to your website. Take a handful to every networking event and give them out when the opportunity arises. If you keep them in a bag or briefcase, don’t forget to replenish stocks after each event.
Professional networking is probably more art than science. Yet it’s something most entrepreneurs need to do and need to do well.
8. Keep a record of the event
You’ve been to the event. You’ve made some good contacts and had some interesting conversations – now what? Keep a brief record of who you met, what you talked about and any action that came out of your discussion. Write your notes on their business card or make notes online. (They’re unlikely to get lost that way).
You might use your notes immediately if you agreed to do something for a contact in the near future. Alternatively, you may refer back to them later as part of your preparation for the next event.
Taking notes will help you remember names and personal details more accurately. And you’re more likely to follow up possible leads promptly. You may even want to earmark someone whose boss or colleague you want to meet at a later date. Jotting down a quick note will jog your memory when the time comes.
9. Set yourself a goal for the year
The more you network, the more it pays off. So why not set yourself a goal for the year? You may want to attend a networking event every month. You may want to get better at follow up. You may just want plenty of opportunity to practice and improve your skills.
10. Look for opportunities to connect with people
Professional networking doesn’t just happen at events like conferences and organised events. It can happen anywhere – on the bus, in a cafe or even on holiday. Talk to people when you’re out and about and be open and friendly. You never know where you might meet your next investor or big client.
Spending time on networking will pay off
Networking takes time and energy. So it makes sense to try and enjoy it as much as possible. That means getting help if you need it. Surround yourself with friends who believe in you and your business, and can keep you going. Start with a small networking group if it’s easier and aim to build up to bigger events and opportunities over time. Join a membership organisation that makes networking fun with interesting get-togethers and sought-after guest speakers. In no time you’ll be networking like a pro.