Business networking tips
Getting the most out of network meetings
The following tips should help you to make the most of attending WiRE meetings, or indeed any other networking opportunities you may have - other networking groups or even the other mums at the school gate!
It's important to know why you are going to the meeting in the first place, and to go in with the right attitude. You are unlikely to secure business at one WiRE meeting, so don't go in with the expectation of coming out with a full order book.
If you go in with the attitude that it is a great opportunity to meet new people and for the WiRE members to support each other, and that any business that comes out of it is a bonus, then you are less likely to be disappointed. WiRE members do do a lot of business between them, but generally speaking, you get out what you put in. Regular attendance at meetings means that you will get to know people, who will be happier to work with you or pass referrals to you, because they know and trust you. Try to help your fellow members and they will probably help you.
Put any upcoming WiRE meetings in your diary weeks in advance and you are more likely to make the time to go on a regular basis. If you leave it to the last minute you will probably feel that you're too busy to go.
What every WiRE member should keep in her handbag: business cards, literature or product samples if appropriate, paper, pen, map and/or directions to the venue, hairbrush!
It's a good idea to try to arrive at the meeting venue a little early if possible - this way, you can make sure you find a parking space, use the bathroom, and choose where you want to sit without feeling flustered.
Meeting and greeting
It's important to think about the impression that your handshake conveys - a good, firm handshake says that you are confident and business-like. How do you know how firm your handshake is? Shake hands with a few people and ask them!
At most WiRE meetings you will get the opportunity to briefly introduce yourself to the other members present. Give your name and keep it brief - one sentence that sums up what you do should be sufficient. Focus on the benefits you can offer your clients - 'I help save my clients' time, and can often save them money on their tax bill' sounds so much more enticing than 'I'm an accountant'.
What usually happens is that members are so busy concentrating on what they are going to say about themselves that they forget to listen to what everyone else is saying. Once you've practised your introduction a few times you should find this less of a problem. Remember to use your pen and paper to make a note of the names of people you want to speak to later - if you're like most of us, you'll probably forget.
Some members very helpfully choose to wear a name badge to meetings to save other members the embarrassment of trying to remember who they are!
Getting to know people
Don't worry if you think that small talk is not your strong point. The wonderful thing about WiRE meetings is that everyone there wants to get to know you, and you'll be lucky to be left on your own for long!
Going to meetings armed with a few simple conversation topics can help you to overcome the first hurdle of starting a conversation with somebody new. To start with, you could ask:
- What business they are in
- How long they have been in business
- What motivated them to start their own business in the first place
Try to ask open questions rather than those which could be answered with yes or no.
Remember that most people enjoy being listened to, and be sure to give your partner the opportunity to speak about their business to somebody who at least looks interested!
Make sure you have plenty of business cards with you, but don't hand them out to all and sundry - this may come across as being pushy. If someone is likely to want to get in touch with you again they will ask for your card. Handing out cards to everyone in the room is likely to be a waste of good stationery.
Try not to talk to the same person throughout the available networking time, unless this was your purpose in attending the meeting.
If you're having difficulty breaking away and moving on, try the following tactics:
- Get something to eat or drink
- Visit the bathroom
- Introduce the person you are speaking to so someone they simply must meet, and then slip away!
It's a good idea, particularly if you have a poor memory, to store any business cards or literature you have collected in an organised manner. Some members keep their business cards in a card index box, or enter the details into their computer. It's a good idea to make notes on the back of the card to remind you where you met them, when, and any other useful details.
Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call another WiRE member if you think there is something you could help each other with, or simply if you want to chat to someone else in the same situation. Many of your fellow members are working from home, and really appreciate the opportunity to talk to someone else in the same boat. If you get the impression they don't appreciate the call, you haven't lost anything, but if they do, you may have started a new friendship or business relationship.