Networking events in a city like London can be a complete jungle. First, you’ll need to hunt the person you need to talk to, only to compete against those who want their attention, and then finally, when you finally get that tête-a-tête moment, break the ice to establish what could become a business relationship. Learn how to find your way through the bushes or risk being swallowed by the wilderness.
There are already thousands of guides on the internet that try to teach you how to properly network and get the most out of events, but here we’re trying to do something different. After all, you didn’t come to the Printsome Blog for conventional content, now did you?
The 12 Commandments of Event Networking
Instead of Moses, imagine Don Draper carrying two tables describing everything you need to know about networking. 12 rules, 12 guidelines, 12 commandments that when followed, will increase your chances of success at a networking event.
#12 Thou shalt not sell thyself too hard
The secret to successful networking is to be open to offers and not go in with the hard sell as soon as you meet someone. This will only make you look self-absorbed and desperate. Nobody likes annoying salespeople. Do you enjoy when someone calls you out of the blue to sell you a new phone plan? No, I didn’t think so. Before someone becomes interested in your business, they’ll need to trust you and that can be achieved by building a relationship. You may not make a ‘sale’ on the day of the event, but you could stay in touch and grow a future business relationship that may last for years.
#11 Thou shalt introduce thyself to the event organiser
They will have the useful contacts and can introduce you to the right people. Don’t be pushy, make sure the organiser isn’t too busy when you approach them. Ask questions regarding the occasion, who is attending, and who are the best people to talk to. Try and build a rapport with the organiser so they are interested in who you are and what you do. Offer to take their business cards and publicity and distribute it to your connections – everyone appreciates offers to help build their own network.
#10 Thou shalt be charismatic
The reality is that as human beings if we don’t instantly like someone, we tend to switch off and disregard them. We can’t all like everyone we come across in business, but it’s important to have a healthy relationship with the people we do deal with. Be genuine. Don’t try and impress by being someone you’re not. It won’t work as people will see through you and you’ll gain a reputation as someone who is false. Listen when people are talking to you and make eye contact. Use positive body language by nodding and turning your body towards the person talking to you.
#9 Thou shalt create a good first impression
The cliché is so true. Within seconds of meeting someone, we form an opinion which tends to stick. Smile, shake hands firmly, but not aggressively and ask neutral questions, to begin with. As the conversation progresses you will sense whether this could be a good contact to network with or not. If you feel the connection is not mutually beneficial at an event, make a polite excuse and leave, don’t waste valuable time. If the conversation is heading in the right way, ensure you keep it going.
#8 Thou shalt plan ahead
Before you attend any business event, do your research and check who is attending. Then work out who will be useful to help you build your business and make a note of where these people will be, for example, their stand number at an exhibition. An invitation to their stand is even better. If you think a particular enterprise could offer a really important networking opportunity, email them before the event and ask for a meeting. Check out profiles on websites and LinkedIn to learn more about people and businesses so you can ask the right questions.
#7 Remember to have a holy goal
Why do you need to network at a forthcoming event? Is it because you’re looking for a new designer? business partner? outlet to sell your products? or new clients? Whatever the reason, keep it in mind when going to the event. Try to get out of the venue with as many business cards as are relevant, and after each connection, make notes on the card about the owner (we promise you’ll never remember them all!) Just a couple of words will do. This collection of cards will be invaluable for follow-up emails.
#6 Honour thy bar
The bar is often the place where people hang out when they get to an event or after trawling exhibition stands for hours. You never know who you’ll meet or who fellow bar attendees might lead you to. At a bar, it’s easier to strike up a conversation than say a hallway, for example. A piece of advice though, don’t drink too much alcohol, if your ultimate intention is to start a business relationship. One or two beers to calm down your nerves might be a good idea, but when you start to get dizzy it might be best to stop. You don’t want to send an apology email the next day for saying something you wouldn’t have said when sober. Everyone’s got a different limit, it’s up to each one of us to discover what it is and respect it.
#5 Honour thy conversation
If you don’t enjoy talking to new people and let’s face it, not all of us do, hone up on your conversation skills before an event. Don’t forget the basics like smiling and making eye contact which will make you much more approachable. If you see someone standing on their own looking awkward introduce yourself, they may be grateful you’ve done this. Ask open-ended questions that don’t require just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, which will keep the conversation flowing. Exude positive energy and try and maintain an enthusiastic interest in what people are talking about, without being too over the top.
#4 Thou shalt not just talk business
Go with the conversation and if someone mentions something they enjoy doing in their leisure time or a member of their family, pick up on this and steer the conversation in that direction. Networking doesn’t have to be all about business. Of course, don’t open up the conversation with ‘how many kids do you have?’ or ‘fancy a game of tennis after the event?’ or you’ll be seen as rather strange. But use the art of conversation to ask personal questions gently and with interest. On this subject, don’t a know-all about where you’ve been in the world or what you can do – people won’t be interested and will want to get away from you.
#3 Thou shalt help others
Be a connector as well as a connectee. Don’t just network for your own purposes, but be prepared to introduce people to each other if you think they will benefit. This will grow your reputation as a networker who doesn’t just think about their own goals. Other helpful ways of networking are recommending restaurants or hotels, giving tech tips, supplying web pages or book suggestions. Commit yourself to giving others (useful) advice and this will go a long way.
#2 Thou shalt be accessible
This means having your right-hand free so you can easily shake hands. Try not to be burdened down with files and papers as you will just look rather unorganised (and a bit of a mess). Similarly, don’t clutch your mobile in your hand or be constantly checking it for messages. The person you are talking to is more important than your phone. This is a networking event and you should make the most of your time there. Catching up on emails can wait. Staring at your phone constantly can also make you look unapproachable.
#1 Thou shalt follow up
Once you’ve made those new contacts follow up with the ones you’re most interested in. Suggest a coffee or lunch to discuss opportunities if a distance isn’t a problem. Just a short email will take care of this (make sure your email signature includes your website and phone number). Another way of keeping in touch is by connecting on LinkedIn. Send them a request along with a short message reminding them where you met (a quick line about something you discussed would be great, too). Extra points if you follow their business on social media.
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