Attending a business networking event can be a little daunting for a newbie, inaugural networker, which is why at iwant2network we believe firmly in making these events more accessible for all. Whilst we have done a number of blogs on making the most of your networking and how to work a room with pizazz and style, we thought this week we would go back to basics, with a handy checklist on dos and don’ts at networking events.
Business networking isnt a short term fix, but it does have a long term gain. So you need pace yourself, strap yourself in and go for it.
My business journey started in 2007, but my running journey started in 2020. In January I was told by the cardiologist to help ease my anxiety and my overwhelm. At the start, I was only able to run down my road, and then lockdown happened, and my anxiety got much, much worse.
As you can imagine, having a business that runs events was very effected and not knowing was actually harder than the actual on my health. Bring in home schooling (what the F), and long days consumed me. This meant my running changed from being about health & exercise, to running away from my family. With this time outside, I was able to pivot my business and launch my very own online networking groups which grew so much in the year I launched 3 groups, and my Speed60 networking which was exclusively for those sprinters in networking that needed a fast paced option.
My WIBN groups had to move to online, which in turn meant many of us got the support and advice we needed from one another, and I found that the running as well as the events being able to continue, helped my anxiety in leaps and bounds.
Fast forward 18 months and I am now training for the London virtual marathon. I know this may sound odd, but running any business can feel like a marathon. The networking business is an interesting one, it’s very seasonal and I see many people coming through the doors.
The biggest mistake people make when networking is thinking it is a quick fix. It is not. In fact, you could say it is a marathon, not a sprint. Now, hang onto your running visors (hat), there’s going to be a lot of puns in this blog!
Come along on the 26-mile (42 Kilometres) journey on how to get the most from networking.
1-3k – Start Small
When you first start, it’s hard. I couldn’t do 300m without stopping and my heart going like the clappers. I was out of shape, and while it’s easy to go home and watch the next Netflix boxset, I remembered that little changes make all the difference. Networking is very similar; you need to start small.
There are so many different networking events out there – online-only networking, face to face networking, morning networking, lunchtime networking and so on – and each one will work for different businesses and people. So go and visit different ones and see which networking events works for you. But like running training, keep it regular, stick to it and give your all to just a few, rather than dipping in and out of lots of groups.
3-5k – Avoid Dehydration
When you are out running, you realise that if you drink too much too quickly, you will need a pitstop, while you still need to stay hydrated. I learned that taking regular but smaller sips enabled me to continue to run without needing to find a bush or tree!
When you are networking, you need to take chunk-sized bites and make sure that you’re not doing too much, too quickly, as it can come across too salesy. Networking is very much about building trust and rapport with people, and natural relationships with everyone. This means once you have found 1 or 2 networking events that you enjoy the structure of, and the people that attend, stick with those and don’t over do it.
5-10k – Get Focused
Now you have got over that hurdle and you feel elated that you’ve got the right networking event for you, now it’s time to start getting focused. Some people focus too much on the detail rather than the overall goal, so stop looking at those fit bits and Apple watches to check your speed or heartrate and really focus on what your end goal is.
You can be too focused on the detail (for me it was all about the cadence – which is my stride) but you need to focus on your overall goal. For example, if your goal is to have 3 new customers in a certain sector, you need to focus on that throughout your networking journey, and this will help you decide on the best group to join. While some people join for the comradery, and to speak with fellow business professionals, and that is fine too, it’s not always about the sales. Really take time to discover what you want from the networking groups you want to join, and make sure they are able to support you in that way, and that you are able to focus on that goal.
10-20k – Being Prepared
Now you’ve passed your 10k mark. You feel fantastic, you’ve achieved something, and you’ve gone from couch to 5k plus much more!
However, you’ve actually got 32k left to go! So, what is the best way of tackling this? Well, now you’re ready to take on a little more, it’s still about building up your mileage here and distance is the key. At this point I looked into getting better running gear to make sure I was more comfortable with what I was trying to achieve and build that distance. This meant being prepared!
Having the right trainers for my stride and the surface I was training on, the right shorts, the handy holder for my phone – yes you will need it – a visor to keep off the British weather – sun and rain – and even the right running underwear equipment (enough said!).
When you go to a networking event, you need to be as prepared as I now was on my runs! The most important things to prepare are:
- Take your one minute which focuses on your reason/goal for going in the first place.
- Be specific on who you are looking for and reflect this across your pitch, 121’s and conversations.
- Get connected with the people in the group, and give yourself enough time to do this – pre-event informal networking is often when the best conversations are had!
Preparation is always proven dividend, because it is those that come prepared and come to the informal networking before hand as well as a pre-written one minute, that do well in networking.
20-30k – Changing Up Your Route
So now you’re in full stride, 6 months into your training (or networking) but you’re thinking to yourself “I’m not really getting very much from this”, or perhaps it feels like things are getting a little stale. You might want to, like with marathon training, to change up your route, but don’t lose sight of the end goal.
This could be changing up your 1 minute every month with a different ask, or it could be to ensure that you have been keeping in touch with regular 121s (even if you have already had one) it’s about building that rapport with members and visitors, to make them feel welcome and from that the group has growth which in turn helps you get more connections.
30-38k – Warming Up
In running, you may have just been doing shorter routes and getting started straight away from the door, but warming up really is so important from the very beginning. My goal at the beginning of my training was to get to 30k, as I know then I would be able to complete the remaining element. In marathon training they recommend you get up to 18 miles, with your body beginning to push through that barrier to complete the remainder.
However, I really struggled with my legs becoming super sore where my muscles just got really tight, and I found the first 5k to be incredibly painful until my body adjusted. Networking can sometimes be like that you think actually it’s really painful to begin with, and you are coming nearer to the end of your networking membership, but the important fact is that you need to keep your networking leads warm like my chunky legs, so you don’t have pain later on and can succeed.
Keep those leads & networking members in your group warm, and continue staying in touch. That could be liking a LinkedIn post, or engaging in the WhatsApp group, joining them for a coffee or a drink, coming along to a social – there are so many ways that you can keep engaged and keep the relationship warm.
38-42k – Getting The Right Playlist
So, you’re now at the end of your 1 year of networking, you can see Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall in front of you. You may think that you need to change up your playlist at this point as you feel perhaps a little bored. A banging playlist, however, can get you through that pain!
Think about how that playlist can really bring your mood and invigorate you – networking is exactly the same! It enables you to talk to others that have gone through the same things as you, getting the opportunities to get support with your business with their goods and services – which in turn helps their business, and with this built relationship they are likely to use your services or products, and recommend you to others in turn. It takes time, and if you have been using these tips throughout your membership, you’ll have no problem re-joining for another year, and take on even more kilometres.
So next time, remember, it’s not a sprint around the corner, it’s the longer marathon game. My marathon game in networking has been for 14 years so far, and I continue to change up my playlists, and perhaps my goals, but I know that the end results are filled with endorphins.