By Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust

Networking – It’s what some people do with a passion, with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them, because for some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread
But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes.

1. Think of networking as a little moment of free marketing.

It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools in the kit – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well.
Prepare by writing down 2 or 3 short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive.

This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch, it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.

2. Networking is just social communication

It’s a conversation between people; not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared!). And it’s two-way – show an interest in what others have to offer so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.

3. Break the uncomfortable first contact by asking a question

Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions: “how have you found the event so far”, “what’s your business about”, “who’s been your favourite speaker so far”

Top tip for the tongue tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being an interested person. Top sales people are often the ones with the biggest ears!

4. Don’t be shy about closing a conversation so you can meet other people

If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, exhaust the introductions and conversation, then say. “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you; I’ll leave you to meet other people here” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”

5. Be bold – ask for connections or introductions and make them in return

It’s OK to ask if the person can think of anyone who might be interested in your service or product. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.

6. Do your follow-up quickly

When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of who you’ve spoken to, or scan their business cards, or staple them in to a notebook and make a note of interesting things which will help you remember them another time. And of course, follow-up with any promised information.

You should follow-up within a few days to make sure the trail of trust is maintained.

So, go forth and network like a boss!

About Bright Ideas Trust
Bright Ideas is a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own companies and learn business skills that will stay with them for life. It helps by providing funding as well as
advice and support from a team of dedicated business mentors and expert advisors. It works with youth organisations throughout London to spread the word about what they do and encourage young people to share their ideas with us.

Since January 2013, Bright Ideas Trust has been delivery partners for the Start Up Loans Company. To date, Bright Ideas Trust has helped over 120 new start-ups achieve funding worth £500,000 and expert mentoring from the commercial world. Several of the Trust’s start ups are already turning over in excess of £100k per annum and creating not only jobs for themselves, but other young people too. For more information visit: www.brightideastrust.com