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SME’s chat:Ways to improve your networking skills

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” — Robert KiyosakiReport by  Phillip Chichoni

I attended a networking cocktail event recently, where people from different organisations had been invited.

While having drinks, I overhead two gentlemen talking; they were complaining that such events were useless and a waste of time as you never got business there. To them, it was better to sit in the office and get some work done.

For serious entrepreneurs, networking is a must-do, as that is the only way you can meet other entrepreneurs and business executives. If you have tried booking appointments with top executives or business owners, you will understand what I mean.

Most of these busy people have no time for you. But at social events, you can get to know them and if you do well, you can get a mobile number or email address. that is not easy and needs tact and preparation.

Here are five ways to improve networking skills and get the desired results.

Have clear objectives
The gentlemen I mentioned above were likely employees and not entrepreneurs. they had no powerful motive to network. To enjoy and benefit from networking, you need a clear objective; the why that drives every action.

For most entrepreneurs, the goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact and so on. When we network, we want to achieve something. keep that goal clear in your mind.

Don’t arrive late
Some people don’t really enjoy talking to strangers, so they will try to arrive at a networking event just at the starting time or after. This way they can just find a chair and sit as the event gets underway.

This is really a waste. If you want to meet new people, you need to arrive well before the event starts. You will then be able to see people as they arrive, before they settle into groups or start conversations with others. Once the event starts, you may not get a chance to meet the people you need to see.

Avoid trying to sell
Although you will want to sell something eventually, do not make the mistake of trying to sell from the start. People hate being sold to; they like to buy when they feel like.

Instead of pushing to get what you want, start by giving first. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship. If you focus solely on what you can get out of the connection, you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections. Make networking all about the other people and not about you.

The other people don’t really care that you desperately need to make a sell or partner with a major player in the industry in order to survive or grow. Those are your problems and your needs. Never expect others to respond to your needs.

People may sympathise, but helping you is not their responsibility. The only way to make connections is to care about the needs of others first. Ask how they’re doing. Ask what could help them.

Prepare to and do follow up

Networking is the start, not the end, of conversation. Ask the other person how best you can keep in touch, whether by email, phone or on LinkedIn.

Get in touch in the next day or two to show that you are interested in building a relationship.  You may need to remind the other person of the event where you met and something you discussed, in case they would have forgotten about you.

If you managed to collect a number of business cards, send an email to each of the contacts just thanking them for their time and opportunity you had of meeting them.

With regular practice, you will soon become a professional at networking. As you build up your contacts in your industry and market, you will have more prospects of growing your business.

Don’t rush to meet people at high levels before you can offer them something. You may desperately need a loan and meeting the managing director of a bank will be awesome. But it could be impossible or futile unless you have something that he wants or needs.

  • Phillip Chichoni is a business planning and financial management consultant who works with entrepreneurs and growing businesses. You may contact him by email on chichonip@smebusinesslink.com or visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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