Although I have been in a relationship for 10 years (married for two and a half) and have not been on the dating scene for a decade, there are many aspects to business networking that remind me of the dating game. The same principles apply: you meet someone and if you like them (or in the case of networking, they can benefit you and your business) you chase, follow it up and hopefully it turns into a lasting relationship!

Since becoming a business owner I have become so much more aware of networking events and have realised their importance. There are so many different groups and events targeted at various sectors that it can be a bit of a minefield. So let’s start with the who, where, why, when and how often?

Just like dating you need to find the groups of people that are going to hopefully develop into lasting relationships. For example, I am not a morning person and so I tend not to go to business breakfasts at 7am in the morning because I can barely muster up a pleasantry before 9am to anyone! I tried speed networking, it is exactly the same (I have been told) as speed dating where you get a few minutes with each person and just when you started to get somewhere with someone the irritating sound of the bell rang.

If you are truly looking for love or a relationship, the more you “get yourself out there” the more chance you have of finding someone. The same applies to networking. Although it sounds excessive, I don’t think there has been a time over the past 3 months where I have not attended a networking event at least once in a week. If I was on the market I think I would be classed as a serial dater. If you don’t try you don’t get!

I have been to a few lunchtime networking events (I have sampled many a restaurants’ food, almost turned into a culinary tour of Manchester) however I was so aware I was out of the office and falling behind with work and requests so I tend not to go to these anymore.

The most effective networking events for me, in terms of winning new business and gaining good contacts are the ones after work. Just like with dating, the easiest place to pick someone up is in a bar! It is incredible how much people change from an afternoon event to an evening event and yes, after everyone has had a beer or glass of wine it is much easier to strike up a conversation. You need to remember that these are people you are talking to. Get to know them a little bit, even if you don’t want to know how many dogs they have or when their son’s birthday is, once you strike up a little rapport people are far more likely to stay and talk to you for a while. I always try and find some common ground with their company after a brief chat and gently steer the conversation into what we do and how we can help them.

Approaching people

I never approach people with the hard sell of “Hi, I am Anna, I work in digital marketing, lets swap cards” and so on. There have been so many occasions when people have shoved a business card in my face and told me I can make my accounting easier/go on a great team building exercise/streamline some part of my business (people seem to love the word ‘streamline’ at the moment) and I have been put off and walked away. If you saw someone in a bar you liked the look of you wouldn’t approach them in such an aggressive and obvious way, you would get to know them a little first and the same applies to networking.

You have to kiss some frogs...

Not everyone you meet is going to be a good lead but it is a labour of love and you have to stick with it to get a return. I used to think, when I first started going down this path of business development that as soon as I walked into a room I would suddenly win ten new clients. This is not the case; you have to be patient and do not be disheartened if you come away with nothing from some of them. Just like dating you are not going to (unless you are very lucky) walk into somewhere and end up marrying the first person you talk to! We have clients which converted a few months after our initial chat.

Follow up

It sounds obvious but always follow up with people you have met the next day or within a few days of the event. We can all get sidetracked with employees, colleagues, work and clients but it is important to take time out to get in touch with anyone who gave you a business card or you had a chat with. This can be as quick and simple as sending an email saying how it was nice to meet them the night before and that you should stay in touch with each other to see how you could help each other’s businesses in the future.

Connect with them over Linkedin so that you have another line of contact and connection with them and if you frequently update your status then you may show up on their timeline and they might remember you and what your business does.

To Summarise

Networking is like going on a date for the first time or trying to chat someone up in a bar! Please do not suddenly start flirting with everyone in the room but the same basic principles apply:

  • Get to know the person, this doesn’t have to be in depth, just show an interest in them.
  • If you want to see them again/work with them, follow it up the next day. Do not apply the “treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen” principle of dating here.

So the above are just some reasons as to why I think dating is just like networking and although I might be a bit out of the loop with the former, my approach to networking has resulted in winning some great business and building great relationships. Do you have any networking techniques that are effective?