"It's not who you know...it's who knows you."

We've been discussing networking at Pick Everard and how we'd like to encourage a more diverse range of our people to get involved. Our people have lots to offer and share, but it's not easy for all of us to throw ourselves in to such opportunities. How we give our people the skills and confidence to do this then is something I have been mulling over.  

For some of us, the idea of networking can leave us feeling uncomfortable, maybe even anxious.  Perhaps we're not sure where to start, what to say when we meet someone new or how to maintain that relationship. We may even be worried that we don't know enough about our own area of expertise or those of close colleagues.

It helps to start by getting a new perspective on what networking is. Networking is a business and personal marketing tool; it should produce a ‘result.’  Rather than thinking of it as selling however, it can be useful to think of it as helping people. Indeed the best networking comes from genuine relationships.

A good networker will invest their time in getting to know people. The more effort you put in, the higher the possibility you will be able to assist people and vice versa.    

One in four of us don't network at all and 41% of us would like to do more but struggle to find the time.  The benefits speak for themselves - you can increase your visibility and brand, attract new clients or new talent, find fresh ideas and develop your knowledge further to name a few.  

Here's a walk through of some networking basics to get you started:

Use a mix of online and offline networking

It's important to have a mix.  You could use online networking to connect briefly with new contacts you'd like to meet in person or for following up after face-to-face encounters. Remember to personalise your messages.  You could also share your expertise through social media posts at popular times in the day when people are likely to be checking their social media - morning, lunch, the commute home.  That way you may get people approaching you. 

Map your network   

Creating a visual of your social network will help you identify ways to grow your business / develop your career through relationships, referrals and recommendations.  Invest in your critical connections.  Share information of interest to them.  Are there any gaps in your network?  How can you strengthen those? 

Start small if you're nervous

You can take an incremental approach to networking if an event full of strangers is too daunting for you.  Inviting a recently-made contact for coffee, sending a senior colleague a useful article, taking a colleague along with you to a networking event or talking to different people in your workplace are some small steps you can take.

Prepare in advance

There's more that you can control around the concept of networking events than you realise.  It's essential to prepare in advance.  Look at who events are aimed at and who is going to be there.  Is this one right for you?  Can you make contact with anyone in advance?  Consider the dress code and set yourself some personal goals for the event.  Ensure you have your business cards ready to share and get there early if you can.  That way people can approach you (which may be easier for you).

Your arrival

When you arrive, check the guest list and see if there is anyone you wish to approach.  Make sure you make your way to the refreshments which may offer you an easy 'in' to a conversation. Remember it's ok to spend some time alone.  If this happens to you, take the time to watch the group dynamics.

Approaching people

Scan the room for anyone you know.  If you have someone in mind that you haven't met before ask around.  Look for anyone standing on their own who will naturally be easiest the approach. Scan also for any groups looking approachable - mixed gender or all female groups tend to be very welcoming.  Male groups are too but if they look deep in conversation you will find it difficult to break in to the group.  Look for the gaps and stand in them, listening.  

 Joining in the conversation

Remember your body language is important here - smile, make eye contact and genuinely listen. Ask an open question (you can pre-prepare these) or make a comment relevant to the conversation.  You're in!  Now you have an opportunity to look for common ground, ways you can help, or simply get to know the person.  Take an interest in anyone you're talking to.  They are the key focus.  If they do ask you about yourself remember to focus on what you do, not what your job title is and share some useful insights (you can also pre-prepare these!)

Relationships can take a while to build and confidence will increase with time and practise.  It's essential to start to dip in to networking and all of the advantages it can bring if you want to move forward in this area.  You'll need to follow up with people also to create a truly sustainable network.  Have a think about your goals in this area and good luck - what's one small step forward for you right now?