In the tough economic climate of today, networking is probably an even more important marketing tool than it has ever been before. The wider your network, the more likely you will have contacts in businesses and organisations that are less affected by the general slow-down in consumer spending.  People have always bought “people” people.  We all like to know who we are dealing with, what they are like, how they can help us and whether we trust them.

It is therefore very important to be confident in our ability to quickly build relationships, but unfortunately, many people find networking a truly uncomfortable experience.  However, our confidence and ultimately our success at networking can be dramatically improved by adopting a few simple techniques.

Here are ten top tips that will help you out when networking face to face :

  1. Have your own 30 second advert.  When someone asks you ‘so what do you do?’ be prepared with a short answer.  Most people will give you one minute to introduce what you do so make it count!
  2. Go to the most appropriate event.  It may sound obvious, but if you work for an accountancy firm providing tax and audit advice to local businesses, then don’t attend a national meeting of accounting firms. Vice versa, if you want business from large organisations, then don’t attend a local event targeted at SME’s.
  3. Set yourself some targets.Think about the meeting before hand.  How many people would you like to meet and from which types of organisations?  What information do you hope to gain?  Remember, preparation and planning will increase your chance of success.
  4. Don’t sell – just network. The purpose of networking is to spend time with other people, to get to know them, and to find out some information that can be followed up later on.  Save the sales pitch for another time.
  5. Stay focussed.Remember you are networking to help to build your business further, so pay attention to the people you meet and to what they say.
  6. Don’t act as if you are desperate for business.People generally like to talk to interesting, upbeat and confident people.  You certainly won’t attract any new business if you act as though you are desperate.
  7. Be interesting.  People like to talk with interesting people so do some homework.  Plan a couple of topics that you can bring up and that you will enjoy discussing.
  8. Ask plenty of questions.  In addition, have a number of conversation ‘openers’ pre-prepared.  People love to talk about themselves so ask them what they like to do when they are not at work, what the most amazing place they have ever visited is or simply their favourite pizza topping!
  9. Listen, listen and listen again.  Pay attention to what people are telling you, and search for problems that you can solve.  Follow up with your solution in business time.
  10. Don’t forget that others will form an opinion of you from your interactions.Treat everyone you meet with respect and don’t make negative comments about other people or your competition.

In today’s technological times, it is also possible to build a large network of people via your computer. Here are five top tips to help you use the internet successfully for networking purposes :

  1. Don’t mix business and pleasure. Be careful about the way you use your business networking sites (for example, LinkedIn) as opposed to the way you use your social networking sites (for example, Facebook). If possible, keep business and pleasure completely separate online – don’t invite professional contacts to link with you on social networking sites, and vice versa. The last thing you really want is your professional contacts to be reading all about how you got a bit tipsy at the weekend, or your poorly dog needing to be taken to the vets!!
  2. Take the time to look up old contacts. By adding just one contact to your online network, you will often gain access to hundreds more people who are interested in a similar vein of work, or who have professional skills that may be useful to you. Take the time and trouble to look up people you haven’t contacted in a while, and make use not only of their skills, but also of the skills of the people they network with.
  3. Be careful how you come across. Remember that the written word does not have the advantage of body language to emphasise its true meaning. Words can easily be misunderstood across a computer screen, so if in doubt, leave it out!
  4. Think what your legacy will be. Where as the spoken word is gone the moment it has been said, the written word has a much more lasting legacy. Never type anything out in temper, as it may be difficult to retract it, by which point the damage is already done. Be polite, courteous and professional at all times.
  5. Beware of addiction! Networking sites can be incredibly time-consuming. Whilst they are a very important and useful resource, stay aware of how much time you spend using them, and don’t let this become proportionally imbalanced to the amount of work you generate from networking in this way.

Finally, it is vital to follow up those whom you have met for the first time on a face to face basis.  Send them a simple ‘It was nice to meet you’ message that is personalised to them.  Why should you do this?  Well, marketing professionals claim that we need to be exposed to a product or service between 5-6 times before we remember and recognise it, and the same can probably be applied to people!