I hate networking events. Stick a sticker on my chest and push me into a room of strangers, and I clam up. I just feel so awkward. It’s like a dating event gone wrong (and anyone who has ever read my dating event reviews, will know I’m not a massive fan of those either!) I just find it so forced and unnatural, and despite being a confident person, the idea of striking up forced conversation with someone, sends shivers down my spine.
I cannot count how many times I’ve stood at the edge of a big crowded event, staring awkwardly at my drink, in full wallflower mode.
And yet I have come to realise that I’m actually really good at networking. I am a natural people person. I like to get to know people, and in my day job in the dating industry, I’ve created a business based on introducing people on different sides of the industry to each other – both at my events and also as a consultant.
The thing about ‘networking’ is that I’ve never really realised I was doing it. Which is probably why I’m good at it! And it’s also never been at specific networking events.
Most of my most successful networking has been over social media. Reaching out to people and getting to know them from the things they post online. Doing my research so I understand who the key players in a certain market are, and being knowledgeable, so that when I meet them in a work capacity, I can have a genuine conversation with them about relevant stuff. Obviously social media networking can be more comfortable than face-to-face stuff, as if someone rejects you, it’s passive – they simply don’t reply. Far better than an awkward, stilted conversation!
I’ve also found that LinkedIn’s Premium feature can be a godsend for business networking, if you’re looking for new clients. Each month your account is topped up with 15 ‘InMail’ messages. These allow you to direct message anyone on the site. If they don’t reply to your message, you lose it. If they reply, you are rewarded with another InMail message. And if you don’t use them all each month, they roll over.
I’ve found InMail messaging a great way to reach out to people in my industry who I don’t know. If you decide to do this, make sure you have a strong LinkedIn profile, which makes clear what you do. Anyone you cold approach is likely to read your profile before replying, unless they have already heard of you.
The other way to network well is to ask mutual friends for introductions. As you build your network of fellow entrepreneurs and business men and women, you will start to realise which people you can chat to like friends. I would suggest calling on these people (rather than simple acquaintances) if you want a specific introduction to someone they know. It can be really awkward asking someone who doesn’t really know you to introduce you to someone else (trust me, I’ve had it happen a couple of times to me by complete strangers on LinkedIn). Often the best introductions I’ve actually had have been when I haven’t specifically had someone in mind – when a friend has said ‘Charly, I have to introduce you to X’ or when I’ve asked a friend ‘do you know anyone who does this ….?’
Get out there, be yourself, and remember, in this day and age, social media is your friend!