IT IS ESTIMATED that, on average, you will have around 100 contacts. With each of those contacts, in turn, connected to a network of another 100 contacts, you can easily be connected to thousands of people.
Of course, some will have larger and stronger networks than others; a simple search on a social networking website will reveal individuals with hundreds, if not thousands, of contacts. However, the real question is how well do they really know any of them.
For your networking to be effective, it is important to identify the people in your network who are more likely to have access to the people you need to reach or influence. These people could include colleagues, friends and well-connected business people. Many of these are in a good position to help you if only they knew that you needed an introduction or a positive word said to the right person. Reach out to them with a specific request and they are likely to help you make a connection.
How to make new contacts and network
Aside from the contacts you already know, there are various opportunities for you to take the initiative and put yourself in the right place at the right time. These include:
- Formal networking events and conferences.
- Educational seminars and training courses.
- Community events.
- Social events.
By accepting invitations to charity fund-raisers, local business meetings and dinner parties, you can quickly build your list of contacts.
Resist the temptation to avoid talking shop in a more social setting. If you are asked what you do, there is a format for an ‘elevator pitch’ which generates more interest than simply answering, “I’m an accountant”. The danger with labelling yourself without explaining further is that people pigeon-hole you in their mind and stop listening because they think they know what you do.
The Elevator Pitch
The idea behind the elevator pitch is that you have less than a minute to explain what you do and to ask for an introduction. This is approximately the amount of time spent in a lift with someone. In reality, the elevator pitch is a starting point for a conversation rather than a speech to be recited in full without pause for breath. A typical format for an elevator pitch includes:
- Who you work with (i.e. kinds of clients)/for (i.e. your employer).
- What you do for them (i.e. the tangible benefits your work delivers).
- What evidence you’ve got for this (i.e. facts and figures, success stories).
- The kinds of recommendations or introductions you’re looking for.
You can adapt this to your own circumstances and make it more informal, but these are the crucial points to cover. People need to know what you do to be able to help you.
How to make a good first impression
From the moment you first meet someone, they are making up their mind about you. Here are some pointers to be aware of:
- Look and sound the part – dress appropriately and in a way which reflects how you want them to perceive you.
- Give a firm and confident handshake.
- Be clear about what you want to say – practice so you can be sure of covering everything.
- Be confident without appearing arrogant – make eye contact, speak clearly and smile occasionally. A fixed grin is as unnerving as a stony face.
- Be knowledgeable – before your meeting read up on industry news. Pay particular attention to information directly relevant to the person you are meeting.
- Be genuinely interested in the other person – show that you are listening to what they are saying and ask questions.
- Find a way to help them – what goes around comes around. If you can help them they will reciprocate.
So what has networking got to do with Sausages?
Actually quite a lot. It’s a sunny Saturday and you’re in a country village with friends. You see two traditional pubs side by side and can’t decide which one to have lunch in, so you examine their menus. Coincidentally, they have the same lunch specials. Here’s what the menus say:
- The Plough – ‘Sausage and Mash £4.95’
- The Coach and Horses – ‘Traditional locally-sourced, organic Cumberland sausages served with creamy crushed potatoes drizzled with thick onion sauce £7.95’
Based on the descriptions, most people would choose to eat at The Coach and Horses. The price may be higher, but it seems worth it. Notwithstanding any awards The Plough might have won for its sausage and mash, the description gives the impression that it is something you could easily make yourself at home. The Coach and Horses’ description, on the other hand, conjures up a far more appetising prospect.
So how does this apply to networking? Before you start to build your network think about whether you want to be plain old sausage and mash – the same as you could get anywhere else – or if you want to be the kind of sausage and mash The Coach and Horses would serve. The dishes are exactly the same, but with a different spin on the information and providing a bit more detail you can earn a premium on top. Networking can be a very valuable way of building up contacts and it does not need to be time-consuming, provided you are clear about the results you want to see and who you need to be connected with.
Hannah McNamara is a business coach and author at HRM Global