Highly influential: find comfort in strangers

‘Network? I’d rather bury my head in the crab-cakes than have to shove
business cards in people’s faces or interrupt two directors in the corner having
a tiff.’

He’s a man of extremes, of course, but for many accountants there is a real
sense of dread when it comes to these events. The prospect of talking to
strangers makes them feel uncomfortable and can reduce some to wilting

You could take the 6:20 home in time for The One Show or you could choose to
go and take advantage of potential opportunities for you and your firm.

I’m not saying the most taciturn personalities can be transformed into the
most gregarious of characters – but networking is a skill, and preparation and a
bit of practice can pay big dividends.

Think about what you want to achieve, how many people you want to meet and do
homework on who might be there.

First impressions count, so check yourself in the mirror before entering the
room. You’ve probably been at work all day, travelled in on a cramped bus or
with your face in someone’s armpit on the tube, so make sure you’re presentable.

Approaching a group is often the trickiest part. Avoid two people in close
conversation but a group of three or more can be a good option if you approach
on the eyeline of the person leading the conversation.

Have an answer prepared to the inevitable ‘…and what do you do?’ Keep it
short, but add detail and describe the benefit of what you offer – ‘I’m with PDD
and I help my clients minimise their tax.’ Business cards can be exchanged at
any time in the conversation. If sooner, they can be used as a talking point and
serve as a way of remembering names. If offered later, they confirm a real
interest in the other person and give you reason to follow up.

Don’t forget to follow up or all your hard work will have been for nothing.
Consider writing a short, handwritten note or letter enclosing an article you
think might be of interest to them rather than an email for maximum impact.
Relationships are often established this way that last for years.

So the next time you’re invited to a networking event, go along. You can also
always record The One Show, after all.

Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business and a former
colonel in the Royal Marines.

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