(People) Networking is passing out information about yourself and your services to people you meet, and should result, eventually, in referrals for business from the people you have come into contact with along the lines of ‘Oh, you have this problem? Funny, I met a techie this morning, seemed very professional, here’s his card’. The only bad networking is no networking. So what does that mean for the freelance and small computer business person/geek. Well, for a start, it means loads of time stood in a corner cringing and looking at your feet, if you’ve really not got the heart for it. Or, there’s the other way. Read on if you want to know more…
You could have the best possible service to offer in the entire universe. Your IT skills could be breathtaking, your problem solving skills revolutionary. However, if your communication skills suck, you aren’t going to be able to show off the first two very well. For a start, you won’t be able to tell anyone, apart from your fellow boffins, how good you are (and be realistic, they’re not listening, they’re waiting for you to shut up so they can talk about how brilliant they are!). And secondly, no one will know that you are there.
Networking is all about making a name for yourself, saying you are about, making yourself pleasantly memorable to others, giving them enough information about you that they can work out if they need to use your services or not, and then leaving them with a way to get in touch with you if they do. And networking isn’t restricted to things with ‘networking’ in the title – it’s available to you every day – in meeting people you see when carrying out your job, in speaking to local businesses, even going from call to call wearing a logo branded shirt might prompt someone to ask what you do – and your networking can spring into action.
Prepare for any formal networking opportunities like you would a job interview. If you’re going to a meeting or an event, who is going to be there? Why are they going to be there? What might they need from you? Prepare a short, snappy sentence about what you do. ‘I fix software problems for home based users’ or ‘I provide business firewall and internet safety support’ or whatever your particular vice is. It’s so much easier on the ear than ‘erm, uhum,hmm…like computers and stuff…’. And are you looking for a particular type of business opportunity? Can the people you are going to be meeting help you with that? For example – ‘I have lots of older IT users in the X area – I’d like to look to get a few more and set up a training session near there…..’ or whatever you need, might make others think about anything similar. I’ve even been to networking events where I said ‘I’m new to being on my own in business. I’d just really like to listen to your experiences today, and get used to being in this type of environment..’ (and there’s nothing better than someone wanting to mentor you to success, as then you get the benefit of their experience at networking too).
Don’t push for a ‘sale’ at a networking or formal event, as you aren’t going to get one. Instead, relax, take a deep breath, and tickle your tonsils on the sweet sound of potential success. Make contacts. Make friends. Make yourself known. Speak. Smile. Take business cards and hand them out to anyone who seems interested (don’t overdo it, you’ll stress people out).
When others try the same tactic on you, write what they have said on the back of their card, if offered. Try to listen carefully, remember what is being said, take note of any interesting or noteworthy information. Reciprocal back scratching is the best outcome of an event like this – do you know someone who knows someone who could benefit or use the services of a contact you have made? Because if you do, I bet your contact will try and do the same for you too.
Make contact with people you have exchanged cards with as a follow up. Even ‘Hi, it was nice to meet you at X, did you enjoy the event?’ is better than nothing, and if you truly did have something in common, or possible business interests or referrals, obviously, that’s even better.
For the skilled or even relaxed networker or opportunist, networking is a great way to meet people, promote your own business, pass on your info and build your empire. So go and find a list of places where you can meet others, and good luck. For everyone else, it’s a good way to get to know your shoes intimately. Take your pick.