Image: Townsville Chamber Image: Townsville Chamber

Love it or hate it, when it comes to business, networking is not only crucial, it is also incredibly valuable.

Fortunately I love it. For me the value of networking is clear and is well articulated through my personal experience:

There was one individual whom I regularly met at ad tech events as we got on well. Initially, there was no relevant overlap of our businesses to partner together, but we always enjoyed catching up. The opportunity finally presented itself. At the last event where we met, we realised whilst updating each other on our businesses that there was a very relevant and lucrative opportunity to work together and we were able to put that time spent building a relationship to excellent use.

I always tell this story to people whenever they ask me about networking. I think it shows how you should seize any opportunity that presents itself when it comes to growing your business network – you never know when a relevant opportunity might just fall into your lap.

But if you are part of the group that finds networking challenging – or if you are simply looking to improve your networking skills at whatever level – follow these tips to build and maintain key businesses connections.

Smile

The golden rule for networking is fairly easy to master: always smile and be approachable. I am not saying walk around grinning like a Cheshire cat for the entire event – this might, in fact, ward people off approaching you. But smile when you catch people’s eye, and look engaged when you are talking to someone.

Start of something spectacular

Remember that networking with someone is the beginning of building a long-term relationship. First impressions are important as they are long lasting, so make sure that your first impression is a good one, and do not forget to follow up after the event.

Be selective

Some pointers to bear in mind when deciding which events to attend – look at the target group, are they a useful group for you to be mixing with? What value will this group bring? Is it a group that you might need more contacts within? There is nothing more frustrating than being at an event and realising that you will not be able to have a relevant conversation with any attendees.

Stay professional

It can be tempting to get relaxed around someone whom you are getting on well with and forget you are in a professional environment. But think before you speak, whether you would say the same thing to a colleague, employee, boss or client. That individual could very well be one of those in the future.

Be inquisitive

Do not be afraid to ask questions about what the person you are chatting to does. At the same time ensure that your responses are clear so that no confusion occurs. This will help you understand the potential scope to work together in future.

Do not “sell at any costs”

The purpose of networking is not to “sell at any costs” – this, in fact, turns most people off pretty quickly. As businessmen and women who are passionate about the companies we work for, it is natural that we want to generate leads and sales. But networking is all about establishing connections and slowly building those relationships up over time.

Continuous effort

Networking does not stop at the first meeting. To pave the way for a strong relationship with people, it is important you meet up again and again. In-person meetings are preferable as nothing beats a face-to-face when building relationships. But if is unattainable, dropping them a quick call to catch up, or emailing them an interesting article are still great steps to building a lasting relationship.

Treat your network with respect

Do not waste people’s time with requests or favours that are too distracting or time-intensive. It will only end up tarnishing your relationship with them. Remember that they are busy too.

Acknowledge your network’s value

While it is great to help people out with introductions where you feel appropriate, it is also vital to remember that you worked hard to establish your network and to just pass it on to others freely might be a naive move. By all means help people out, but remember that you spent time building your network and should not just give it away for free on a silver platter.

Quid pro quo

Think about how you can help one another out, whether that is with an introduction, brainstorming an idea, or sharing knowledge about your area of expertise. Make sure the relationship is a two-way street that you both are contributing to.

By Kristina Prokop, Co-Founder of Eyeota