How to Get Better at Networking
Posted May 3, 2018 by Anastasia Prokofyeva

How to Get Better at Networking

You are probably familiar with the Six Degrees of Separation theory. It suggests that everyone is six or fewer steps away from any person in the world. This “friend of a friend” chain means that you literally “know” every person that might be helpful for, or interested in, your business.

The only thing left is to actually find them and build a connection with them.

Networking is the tool that makes it possible.

Business networking helps entrepreneurs to form professional relationships, to create and act upon business opportunities, and to share information and find potential partners. As promising as it sounds, it takes some effort.

What Is Networking?

The idea of networking is simple: it involves activities that help you to solve your problems by developing mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with others.

In business, it’s essential for attracting new clients or partners, looking for suppliers, employees, or investors. You can learn how to network at a conference or at business meetings. You can also do this in coworking spaces, at college reunions, during volunteering activities, when attending hobby clubs, as well as through social media.

Related: Unusual Partnerships: Who Online Retailers Should Be Friends With

Why Do You Need to Network?

… Because personal connections work miracles. The numbers speak for themselves: 97% of survey respondents said that small meetings are their favorite form of communication for business talks, gaining new skills, and obtaining important information.

Fair enough. We interpret people not only by the choice of their words but also through their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

Experts believe 70-80% of job positions are filled through networking. That’s why so many people now learn how to network for a job. LinkedIn alone has 500 million users.

People understand the importance of networking. 41% of professionals wish they had more time for it. It’s understandable: business networking gives opportunities to expand your influence, make new connections, and build your reputation.

By networking actively, you remain aware of what’s happening in your industry. The better you understand your market, the more confident you become, and it also makes your business more visible to others.

Your introversion might be one of the reasons you are running an online store instead of a brick-and-mortar one. What if parties with friends are the only social events you are comfortable with?

People tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are. This is called the spotlight effect. Remember it while networking at conferences or events. In reality, no one is pointing fingers at you for messing up the cards and handing out the wrong one. So don’t let some minor inconveniences or your nerves misguide you.

spotlight effect

The results of the study on the spotlight effect: predicted and actual percentage of observers able to identify the individual depicted on the target’s T-shirt

Taking the first steps of networking can feel awkward, but it doesn’t mean you should give up on your networking skills. Give it some time and practice, and the results of your business relationships are going to be so worth it.

Also read: How to Hire and Manage Staff for Your Growing Online Store

How to Network Effectively

So you are going to your first networking event, be it a conference or a hobby club meeting. What do you do?

1. Plan ahead what you want to get from the event

Always plan your visits ahead if you don’t want to find yourself lost at the coffee table trying to figure out your next move.

Think of how much time you want to spend at the meeting, how many people you want to make contact with, and most importantly — state your aim, for example, to draw new customers or to find a micro influencer you can collaborate with.

Popular reasons to network

Popular reasons to network from the infographic, based on a Populus survey of business professionals

Also, do some homework: learn who will be attending or speaking and even reach out to some people via email beforehand so that you have some common ground with them at the event.

Remember to diversify your network. It’s better to know a designer, an influencer, and a marketing expert than just three influencers. Your business is growing, and soon you’ll likely be in need of different experts.

Don’t try too hard at keeping up with everyone. There’s Dunbar’s Number, which suggests a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. And it is only 150. So don’t exhaust yourself trying to keep up with every person you meet while networking. It’s always about quality, not quantity.

2. Introduce yourself

Small things like a handshake can make a big difference. Researchers say if you shake hands with somebody, it increases the positive impact. The way you do it also matters: a firm but friendly handshake is a win.

Mention your name as you offer your hand, and say what you do. Just don’t turn it into a “commercial,” but keep it short and simple. A joke is not the best way to start a conversation here, especially if it’s more of a formal event.

First impression

First impressions depend on words less than we think (Image credit: CraftCv)

It’s okay to have prepared lines if you feel nervous. Just don’t try to plan everything you’re going to say. Scripts of any kind feel unnatural, and this way you risk to look phoney. Prepare phrases that describe what you do and what you’re looking for at this event. Your goal is to sound confident, not simulated.

Get creative with business cards. 88% of business cards will be thrown out in less than a week. Save some money and trees: make sure your card is a) memorable, and b) handed out to someone who is actually interested in getting in touch with you later.

Don’t hesitate to choose unusual forms and designs, and always update your info and contacts on it.

creative business card example

You don’t need to go too far with business cards to make them stand out. This one proves it

Also read: How to Pay Yourself When You Own a Business

3. Master the art of small talk

Love it or hate it, but small talk is a good conversation opener and space filler. To find common ground and keep the conversation flowing, try to stick to safe topics such as travel, weather, hobbies, literature, sports, films, holidays, pets, or art.

You can also try mirroring while you small-talk. That means copying the body language, gestures, and facial expressions of the person you’re talking to. It’s called the “chameleon effect.”

Notice small things: what this person finds interesting about the event, what they think of some current news, and so on. People value personal connections, as it shows them they’re not just assets for your business growth.

4. Move to business talk

Before you both forget why you came here and start showing each other cute photos of your children and pets, move to the “big” talk.

Ask what brought them to the event or what they are hoping to get from it. Then elaborate a bit more on your business, but don’t sell to your companion. Try to be helpful: maybe you already know the person they are looking for, or you can offer some advice.

Also, be an active listener. That makes people feel appreciated.

  • Pay attention not just to the words, but also to the person’s body language (are they nervous, tired, bored?)
  • Smile, react with other facial expressions
  • Keep an open and interested posture
  • Make small verbal comments (“Yes,” “I see,” “Right”)
  • Ask open follow-up questions (“Did you?”, “Really?”, “Is that what you meant earlier when you said…?”)
  • Keep eye contact
  • Provide feedback that shows the person is understood (“Sounds like you are saying…”, “You mean …, right?”).

5. End a conversation with tact

If you want to move from the current conversation, be honest and don’t lie about having to leave. It would be awkward to meet this person later in the line for the bathroom.

Just say that you enjoyed meeting and talking to them, but you hoped to talk to some other people too. Offer to exchange business cards or ask them if you can drop them an email later. Ask if you can introduce them to someone you already met at this event.

How to end a conversation

The chart shows how you can end a conversation without awkwardness

6. Follow up on time

Don’t take too long to follow up with people you made connections with, especially if you decided on some time frame. A call or an email will show you’re a reliable person, and they’re important to you. Make it clear you expect it to be a long-term network, beneficial for both of you.

Make sure you are providing value. If you found a blog post, a helpful YouTube video, or a specialist that the person might be interested in, don’t hesitate to share your knowledge.

It’s important to do that on a constant basis. Always share useful information with people in your network, not only at events, but also via email or on the phone. People should know you care for them even when you’re not working together at the present moment. It helps to maintain a connection and always keep in touch.

How to Network Online

81% of the US population has a social networking profile. Not only the user figures but also user engagement are growing. Users spend about 135 minutes a day on social media. It would be a mistake to ignore such an opportunity for online networking.

The number of social network users

The number of social network users worldwide will only grow and will reach more than 3 billion in 3 years

1. Choose platforms and be active

Think of the platforms your audience or potential partners tend to use, and try to be active on them. You can join discussions in forums or Facebook groups, tweet, leave comments on FB pages, make connections with people based on common grounds like going to the same university or attending a charity event.

If you have a blog, keep posting regularly. Don’t forget to respond to comments. Answers to online questions are great for showing your expertise and building trust.

If you want to get in touch with influencers, first make a list of people you’re interested in. Use services like FollowerWonk that can help to find bloggers on Twitter. Search for keywords of your industry + the words “blogger,” “influencer,” or “author.” Then find the platform they use the most and become their active subscriber: comment on their pages, ask questions, tag them in your posts. Remember to stay value-oriented: don’t turn communication into emoji exchanges.

Related: How to Promote Your Online Store With Content Marketing

2. Go offline if needed

Say you made connections with people online, and now you want to collaborate or partner with them. When writing a message or an email, make your point clear: what do you want from them? If you want to meet them offline, don’t be vague but specify what you want to discuss.

pitch example

Be friendly, but stick to the point

Also, don’t give up on unanswered emails and messages. People get busy and forget things, so contact them again. You may get the answer when you no longer expect it.

What you’ve learned about effective networking:

  • Set measurable goals and plan your network activities.
  • Reach out to your potential partners before the event.
  • Practice small talk and master the etiquette.
  • Make your business card memorable.
  • Share your expertise on your blog or social profiles.
  • Share helpful and relevant content with partners to stay in touch.

I’m sure many of you have something to say about your networking experience. So don’t hesitate to share your tips on how to network in the comments!

About The Author
Anastasia is a freelance author and writes about e-commerce, traveling, and lifestyle. In her spare time, she's a crazy cat lady and a chocolate addict.