Attended a breakfast meeting this morning organised by BNI (Business Network International)
to explore practical networking strategies.
Not surprisingly a good proportion of the time was spent talking about the benefits of networking. 'Word of Mouth Marketing' has become the current vogue for one of the oldest and best known marketing secrets. Ask anyone how they get their business and doubtless they'll attribute a large percentage to referrals, or word-of-mouth recommendations.
Taking the time to actively manage and encourage this word-of-mouth activity is what networking is all about. For newcomers it's easy to assume that you have to start from scratch and building your network is going to be difficult. Laura Hurren, the UK Regional Director of BNI
hosting the session, reminded everyone that colleagues, family, friends, clients and suppliers are all part of a ready made network.
In a twist on an old saying: It's not what
you know, or even who
you know - it's who they
know, that makes the difference.
Apart from your ready made pool of contacts there are plenty of organised networking opportunties. BNI, for one, runs structured weekly sessions all over the world. There are also plenty of less formally managed occasions that you can cut your teeth on.Laura gave this list of best practice to get the most out of any networking opportunity:
- Identify the nature of the meeting, is it predominantly business or social.
- Plan in advance. Get the delegate list so that you can seek out the valuable contacts. Try to get to know the culture of the group.
- Make sure you have enough business cards but don't force them on people.
- Set yourself a goal for the number of people you'd like to meet.
- Remember to develop the conversation before going into your 'elevator speech'.
- Act like a host and not a guest.
- Remember the five 'W's: Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why?
- Give a referral whenever possible - but only if it feels right.
- Describe your own products and services - but briefly.
- Exchange cards - give two; one to keep, one top pass on.
- Spend 10 minutes or less and don't linger with friends.
- Write comments on the back of business cards received as an aide memoire.
- Take time to debrief yourself. Write down the keypoints - keep a record.
- Follow up with the people you meet. Do what you say you are going to do.Top 10 qualities of the best networkers were identified as:
- Good at listening
- Positive attitude
- Good at follwing up
- Always networking
- Good at maintaining their networks - recognised gatekeepers
- Enjoys helping others
- Shows appreciation - at the very least, always says 'thank you'.
Laura finished with some warnings about stereotypes to avoid:The limpet
- Nervously locates a friendly face in the crowd and sticks with it.Home Pigeon
- Huddles with colleagues.Party Bore
- Dominates the conversation and doesn't let anyone get a word in edgeways.Buffet Freak
- When he speaks, it's with his mouth full.Lounge Lizard
- Looking to meet attractive women.Suspect Alco
- Out for the free booze.Butterfly
- Flits around, doesn't engage in conversation, constantly looking to move on. Rabbit in the headlights
- Would prefer to be anywhere else other than where he is right now.
These extracts are from just one in series of training sessions organised by BNI and made available for free to its members. David & Associates
are members of a London based group that meets at Tower Hill
each Friday. Check out the website for a list of our members and if your profession isn't already represented, we'd be delighted to see you there.