Learn to add value while networking

The Centre for Entrepreneurship recently hosted a networking breakfast for businesses and entrepreneurs through the Cape Chamber.

It was a well-attended event with a group of confident, purposeful men and women in the room.

I also had the privilege of attending the Premier’s Entrepreneurial Recognition Awards (PERA) on November 23. It was an inspirational event with many entrepreneurs/businesses in the conference centre.

It got me thinking on just how important networking is, and how to maximise on events like these like many others successfully did.

Here’s a nifty definition of networking: creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question “How can I help?” and not “What can I get?” (Business Dictionary).

In my opinion, networking is an essential skill for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs. When used consistently and purposefully, it can seriously increase your impact; raise your income and extend your brand awareness.

Here are some tips to building a growing network:

Aim to connect, not to sell

The MC at the networking breakfast related how those attending a previous event were asked: “How many of you came to sell something?” The answer was about 50 percent.

The next question was: “How many of you came to buy something?” The answer? None!

People don’t attend a networking event to buy products or services. Uppermost in their minds is how can they build relationships and connect with others who may add value to their business and vice versa.

Making this key mistake could alienate you at the event and leave you with the impression that “networking doesn’t work for me”.

It can, and does work when you focus on connecting.

Identify what you want to achieve and whom you want to meet

Another mistake that is made is to focus on quantity (shotgun approach) rather than quality (laser).

Most events last two to three hours with the networking section restricted to 45 minutes. Rather than distribute and collect business cards, aim to focus on six to eight new people or connections. These you need to leverage through a speedy follow up.

Follow up promptly

I have “discovered” business cards from events some weeks after the session. This is way too long to follow up in a meaningful way. It may be helpful to send a short, yet sincere email within 48 hours of the event. Don’t forget to put this contact into your networking schedule and maintain the momentum.

Prepare your elevator pitch

At the event on Friday, we all had a short opportunity to share our elevator pitch.

The key here is to practice your pitch, make it personal, impactful and concise.

One of the gents attending delighted the audience by singing the song, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” His first name was Jeremiah, and no one will forget!

Be present, visible and likeable

This means being punctual, practicing little courtesies like listening carefully, smiling appropriately and shaking hands firmly.

It means thinking how you can first add value to others before seeking value for yourself.

After all, one of these “strangers” may be the key person who opens a door to a major business deal. The reason they remembered you? Because you came across as genuinely interested in them and their world. This can lead to expanding yours.

Finally, identify which groups, companies and individuals you are wanting to meet and connect with.

It may be that a networking event doesn’t have these earmarked people in attendance, but there may be a company, individual or interest group present at the networking session which can give you a “warm” introduction to those key people or organisations.

It may be helpful to draw up a list of potential customers; decision makers; influencers; opinion leaders and experts through whom you want to extend your networking circle.

By then, asking yourself who and how can you be introduced to them, you may see clear linkages in the event or session you plan on attending.

Remember, networking is your net-worth; your first focus is to connect, not sell and that networking will pay huge dividends, when you work.