Do you come here often?

Networking…do you or don’t you?

Does the idea of it fill you with horror and dread? A room full of strangers, having to make small talk, forced, uncomfortable, contrived.

When I first started working for Stone Create the idea of networking did faze me somewhat, but it was an integral part of my job, getting the company name out there, and letting people know about what we do. All I can say is that it is like anything, the more you do it, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

It has proved to be an excellent way for our company to generate new leads (and for us to give them) and along the way I have met some fantastic supportive individuals.

My biggest piece of advice is to genuinely be interested in other people and try and ask open questions (who, what, how, when, etc – also “Tell me about…”) give the other person opportunity to express their views and feelings and talk about themselves and their business.

I would never just go up to someone and talk about Stone Create as an opener. I’d far rather initially joke about about the tea/coffee/biscuits/weather/the journey in to get the conversation going.

Smile. Put the other person at ease. Try and put the focus on making other people feel relaxed as opposed to focusing on how nervous you feel. Listen to what they are saying and always have in mind how you might be able to help them.

Pick the right group, don’t aimlessly go to every networking group possible, be selective, find out what works for you and then stick to it. The choice might be built on geographic location or sector or even trade. You might join a networking group where you can give a presentation so people develop a stronger understanding of what you do. Try and make them engaging and memorable. This presentation was all about how to market your business and focus on your unique selling points.

It’s a great idea to arrange one to one meetings so that you can develop a better understanding of the person and their company.

Networking with the same people builds trust. Keep your integrity. Follow up conversations. Always remember that it’s not just the people in the room you are networking with – if you come across as credible and trustworthy they will then recommend you to their wider network. This is where the true power of networking lies.

Measure if it is working for you. How much time are you spending? How much is the cost of membership? It it generating new business as well as raising your company profile? Is it commercially viable?

I always try and remember at least one small detail about people too, for example their favourite football team, singer, food, business specialisms or anything else you have managed to glean from them through conversation. This means that the next time I see them I’ve got something to talk to them about. People appreciate being listened to, as Dale Carnegie said:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Business for us is most definitely about building relationships and while you might not end up being ‘friends’ with all of your clients and people you network with, it is amazing how bonds can develop over time and strong relationships emerge.

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