Okay, we know that Christmas is still a fair way away, but as you will know – the festivities are already beginning, and perhaps you’re already counting down the days until your time off. With Christmas season in swing, your calendar is almost certainly filling up with all kinds of events and that means you’ll be having to do some networking.
For many people, networking often springs a few things to mind: awkward small talk, a quick exchange of business cards, or a ‘I’m washing my hair that night’-type of excuse to get out of it. But really, you shouldn’t be afraid at all – especially at Christmas time when people are (mostly) in good spirits.
Networking done well can be brilliant for you and your business. Not every connection you make will lead to something valuable – but you never know where a new connection may come in handy down the line, or how you may be enriched by an unexpected conversation or tip.
Whatever your attitude to networking, try and embrace it this festive season, and be true to yourself as you do so. We all network every day without realising – we meet a friend of a friend, or a new contact in a business meeting, and more. Meeting people at an event is not any different to these scenarios – you just need to be prepared on how to explain who you are, what you do, and what you’re all about. If you can do that in a concise and entertaining way as well, then it’s hard to go wrong.
Sometimes it takes a little help though to know how to get to that point, so I’ve put together my top 10 tips for networking like a pro:
Whether you’re a natural interactor or a ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ kind of networker, communicating and building relationships is incredibly important for those working in business. You need to have a strong business network, and it’s not hard to do with the help of platforms like LinkedIn, Rungway, Eventbrite and more.
Should you want to do some more work on your networking skills, bring some sparkle to your event conversation or just get used to speaking to strangers, then do come on my networking course which is run by the PRCA. It’s half a day of hilarious fun, and people always leave smiling and full of ideas. The next one is on 24 November, just in time for the Christmas season – hope to see you there!
Oh, ‘networking’, that mucky word that has people either reaching for their business cards or frantically thinking of excuses why they simply can’t attend that event or function.
Don’t be scared. Embrace it. But be true to yourself in doing so. And this is why:
Networking connects people together, and this connection may or may not bear fruit one day. It doesn’t necessarily mean winning a contract or making a newbiz contact but meeting someone new who enriches your life in any way – an insightful comment, an experienced operator, or tips or tricks for doing better business. Networking, especially online, is an opportunity to learn, share and gain insight as much as gain contacts, business or even find a new job! Getting to know people truthfully could lead to the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if you have enough in common to stay in touch.
Many people are afraid of networking, but we network every day – with our family, colleagues and friends. It’s no worse that walking into your local boozer or wine bar and introducing yourself to your mate’s mate (in fact, you’ll be surprised that in practice it’s actually a lot easier than that). Just prepare a little patter to explain who you are, what you are about and maybe what you do. Keep it short, make it entertaining if possible, and see if what you are saying registers at all or if their eyes glaze over.
You already know the net worth of your network? In what way has your network brought benefit to you personally or professionally. That is its true net worth. If you throw out a post or question, do people respond, or react? Will they help you? You can calculate time saved, costs saved and corners shortened by going directly to your network for help, answers or suggestions but networks must work both ways. As so often in life it is better to give than receive so be generous with your support to your network and you will reap your reward.
Whether you like it or not, if you work in business, then you have to build a strong network (and LinkedIn in makes it so easy; sites like Meetup.com are also invaluable for finding new events in your field of interest). If you want to sharpen your networking skills, add a little sparkle to your conversation, overcome your fears of walking into a room full of strangers or build your confidence in how to meet people (or get away from people) then come on my networking course which is run by the PRCA. It’s half a day of hilarious fun and by the end everyone leaves the room brimming with ideas and confidence.
Finally, if you want more tips on networking, check out our MD Phil Szomszor’s blog post on sociable business networking – it was written back in 2010, but the advice is just as relevant today.
Rather than nurse a Jägermeister-infused hangover, in the hope of making a new connection for next year, I’ve stopped walking around town at Christmas time in a Santa hat sticking my business card to people’s foreheads. Instead I am finding out what is important to a few close people in the New Year, and taking a real interest in connecting them.
This time last year, I was walking through Buenos Aries listening to a podcast about blogging. The guy being interviewed said the simplest thing yet: “I blog to reply to the questions people ask me about my product” – boom! How easy is that? And there I was looking to come up with the next Clue Train Manifesto every week.
My point is writing something constructive, educational and helpful for the web means you are saving time and making a connection. There is a strong case that the value we create is directly linked to how much worthy content we can produce. I still have a long way to go, but these days I send people a blog about something, and that comes back to me, people share it and learn something far deeper about me than when I got the next drinks round in, which was not that often anyway…
I was at a Christmas networking event many years ago and was giving my business card to everyone, including the bartender, the toilet attendant and the waiter. After shooting the breeze with a guy and telling him how cool what he did was, he looked me right in the eye and asked me, “Are you sure you want me to call you on Monday?” What he really meant was “You are saying ‘call me’ because you don’t know how to say that you are not interested”. I thought, “Wow! I bet that guy has a lot more time in his day than most people.”
So, if you’re thinking about networking opportunities this Christmas, here are my top five tips.
1. Don’t waste your time having your business card stuck to everyone’s forehead this Christmas; in fact, just forget selling for a moment…
2. Catch up with some people that you already know, maybe some contacts you haven’t made as much time for recently as you would have liked.
3. Identify five people you really want to do business or work with and get time in their 2013 diaries now – they’re probably free, but leave the first week clear.
4. If you are at a Christmas party, leave your smartphone in in your pocket/handbag. Always remember, Twitter and alcohol don’t mix!
5. Reflect on your year and consider some of the great people you’ve met. Think about writing a round-up blog post and include some of them – and then let them know they’ve been included. It’s a nice way of reminding them about you.
However you’re celebrating the Christmas break, make it count – 2013 is going to be a cracker.
Bernie Mitchell is owner of Engaging People, an agency dedicated to helping businesses join the dots between what happens online and offline. He is also the organiser of a host of regular events and workshops, including TagTribe, the Late Late Breakfast Show and London Bloggers’ Meetup.
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