There are a lot of things in the modern business world that are necessary but that a lot of people would much rather not have to do at all. For some business owners, this is their accounting, for others, it’s marketing, whatever it is, many business owners often find themselves actively avoiding these kinds of things. Of course, as we all know, just because you might not be the biggest fan of something, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to your business.
That being said, there’s one simple word that’s enough to fill many business owners with a sense of complete and utter dread. Something so important but so difficult that many successful businesses have failed simply because they refused to more actively embrace it. That word? Networking.
There’s a good chance that simply reading that sent a slight shiver down your spine. The reality is that very few people like networking. It feels as though it drains any conversation of all honesty and that it makes you seem disingenuous and annoying.
And, to be totally fair, if you’re doing it badly, that’s how it can come across. But like it or not, networking it an incredibly important part of running just about any business and without it, you’re never going to be able to make the kinds of connections that your business really needs. With that in mind, here are a few things that you can do in order to get better at networking.
Take advantage of relevant trade shows
Trade shows are still one of the best ways to connect with both clients and other businesses. Sure, the internet has taken over a great deal of modern communication, but the truth is that there really is no better method of networking than to talk to people face to face.
Of course, networking isn’t the only thing to think about at trade shows, everything from trade show display booths to small gifts to send people away with can make a difference to how people respond to your presence, but it’s your ability to communicate with them directly that’s going to make all the difference in the world.
The wonderful thing about trade shows is that they provide you with an atmosphere that is tailor-made for networking. You’re not taking up someone’s free time with business talk in the way you would at a social event, and you’re not catching people when they’re in a rush in the way you might under other circumstances. This is why people are at a trade show, and you might never find a better opportunity to talk to them at length about your business.
Do your research
Of course, there’s only so far you can get with basic introductions and pleasantries. One of the worst things about the kind of networking where you go in totally blind is that you’re never exactly sure of whether or not the person you’re talking to is the right kind of person at all. That’s why, if you’re going to be attending any kind of networking event, it’s a great idea to do as much research as possible.
That way you can not only know who to talk to, but you can learn a little bit about them so that you’re better prepared to engage with them directly. The truth of networking is that a lot of conversations can be pretty short so you’ve got to make them count. By having information on the person that you’re speaking to in advance, you can avoid a lot of standard small talk that just gets in the way.
This can be a tough tightrope to walk. After all, if you’re at some kind of networking event, then there’s a good chance that everyone else knows exactly why they’re there as well. That being said, just going up to someone and talking about your business’s financial situation is going to come off as brash and a little bit awkward. It’s always better to be subtle when you’re talking to someone about your business.
Then again, you don’t want to be too subtle. You’re networking in order to make a connection, not just pass the time. If you just end up making casual conversation that doesn’t actually go anywhere, then you’re just going to have wasted your time.
It’s important that you’re able to engage with someone on a personal level without losing sight of what your goals are. If this sounds incredibly difficult and complicated, that’s because it is. But hey, no one ever said networking was easy if it was then no one would need any of this advice!
One of the biggest barriers to someone being able to network more successfully is confidence. If you can’t go up to someone and speak to them in a confident, authoritative manner, then you’re never going to be able to make any connections. The simple truth is that people respond to confidence. If you speak with clarity and intent while making confident eye contact and presenting yourself as someone worth talking to, other people are going to pick up on that pretty quickly.
Shrinking into a corner is one of the best possible ways to make sure that you’re completely and totally forgotten about. Of course, there’s a big difference between being confident and being brash. If you come across as a total blowhard then you’re going to make an impression, it’s just not the impression that you might have been intending.
People are going to walk away from talking to you thinking that you’re obnoxious, arrogant, and they probably won’t have much interest in working with you. The truth is that being skilled and talented can get you very far in this world, but being a polite, considerate person can often get you just as far if not even further.
Learn to listen
Of course, it’s important to remember that networking isn’t just about you offering up your business plan to someone else who just has to sit there and listen to you without saying a word. It’s a conversation, a dialogue. You need to remember that the person that you’re speaking to isn’t just a receptacle for your business ideas, they’re a human being. They will have just as many things to say as you and may have insights that you might not have even considered.
This is why it’s so important that you learn to listen, really listen. Most people are terrible when it comes to listening. Rather than actually listening to what someone is saying to them, they’re mostly just waiting for their turn to talk. You need to do everything possible to shut that part of your brain off and actually start paying attention to what someone is saying to you. Not only is it possible that they’ll have insight that can help your business, but people can tell if they’re really being listened to.
It’s the kind of thing that can make a subtle but significant difference to how someone feels about you when they walk away from your conversation. They will see you as someone who actually cares what others have to say, something that is incredibly valuable if you’re going to be working with someone else.
Putting your best foot forward is always a good idea when it comes to networking. That being said, there’s a big difference between putting your best foot forward and talking a load of rubbish. Sure, you want to impress people, and you want to make your business seem worthwhile, but if you need to lie to do that, it just shows that you don’t have that much faith in your business in the first place.
Not only that but people can almost always tell when they’re being lied to. And even if they can’t, you will get found out sooner or later. No matter what, lying about your business to make it seem better is always going to blow up in your face. The best thing that you can do is to make sure that you’re presenting yourself and your business honestly and authentically. Not only will that reduce any issues that you might have in the future, but it’s going to make people much more receptive to the things that you have to say.
Now, this is not to say that, having read this advice, you’re suddenly going to become a networking master. The truth is that networking is something that takes a great deal of time and effort. But if you’re willing to put in the necessary amounts of work you will find that it can help your business make the kinds of connections that can take it from a promising new startup to a business with some genuine clout within your own industry.
The old saying: “it’s not what you know that matters, it’s who you know” might not be entirely true, but knowing the right people can certainly help if you want to be able to take your business to the next level.