You’re new to networking. But the very thought of schmoozing with strangers after spending the last twelve months staring at your own four walls is filling you with dread.

Understandable. Yet networking provides endless opportunities for you and your business. Learn, diversify, connect, grow.

Networking is your chance to gain new business and create a strong support network. It really is true: professional peers are often better than friends or family at championing our businesses. New contacts can support you in strengthening and driving your business forward. And it’s widely understood that we are more likely to recommend colleagues with whom we’ve formed strong professional relationships.

Being social is good for the soul. So if you’re ready to give networking a go, here’s how to smash it in 7 easy steps.

1 – Pick an event that suits you

There really is a networking event for everyone. Local, regional, national, industry specific – a quick search and you’re bound to find a group of interest. And there are plenty of alternatives to the traditional networking model on offer. Networking outdoors is becoming increasingly popular. These groups prioritise fitness, well-being and collaboration in order to deliver a networking event with a twist.

For your first networking session, select a group you’re comfortable with. If you’re after a small and intimate setting, it may be best to avoid a suited and booted corporate affair with 100+ attendees. Remember, networking is like driving a car. It’s best to shop around before you find your perfect ride.

When restrictions allow, face-to-face networking will resume. But for now, virtual networking is definitely the dish of the day. And it certainly has its benefits. With increased accessibility, businesses from right across the country have been able to connect and collaborate like never before.

2 – Know who you are

Be you, and be proud of it. Remember, we can easily sniff out those who aren’t being sincere or genuine.

If you picture yourself at a networking event mingling and laughing with your fellow attendees, you’re more likely to enact those behaviour patterns. So think positively. Try to challenge any negative thoughts. Attack them with positive mantras. ‘I can do this. I’ll feel great afterwards. This may create opportunities.’

One of the best ways to build confidence prior to an event is to rehearse your introduction or elevator pitch. Try something as simple as: Hello, I’m X and I’m the founder of X. We help people by X.

3 – Smile

We’re naturally attracted to positive people, so get ready to flash those pearly whites. Alex Jones, a lecturer in Psychology at Swansea University, has ‘scientific proof that a smile really is the best accessory.’ Jones discovered that smiling faces are linked to our perception of health, and that a ‘healthy appearance is preferred in faces across the globe.’ The university’s studies prove that we’re more likely to invest in, and vote for, people who smile.

4 – Have realistic expectations

It’s unlikely you’ll come out of your first networking event with 30 new clients. So have a tangible goal in mind. For example: I’m going to speak with at least two people about my company, and share my contact details with them.

5 – Listen

Make your fellow attendees feel valued and respected by asking questions. Try to show interest in their passions or hobbies. And use your attendees’ names straight away. (Even if you don’t feel it on the inside, this simple gesture will reflect confidence and assertiveness.)

6 – Come prepared

Get ready to dish out those business cards. If applicable, bring a tablet so you can share a visual portfolio of your product or service. Refer to it naturally when the conversation allows or when your contact shows a keen interest in what you do. And if you offer them, bring free samples or unique discount codes to the event. This will stimulate interest and ensure you’re remembered.

7 – Follow up

Professional relationships are built on trust and integrity. So if you tell a contact you’ll action something, do it. If you promise to send over a free sample, send it. If you promise to share your portfolio, share it. Or if you suggested a lunch, book it in.

Link with your new contacts on professional social media networks after the event, and follow their business pages – an easy way to widen your prospective client field.

Looking to attend your first networking event?

The Cheshire Business Directory run in-person networking for businesses right across Cheshire and Greater Manchester. Our aim is to get local businesses seen and heard, and our networking events allow our attendees to get support, connect and collaborate.

Averaging around 20 – 50 businesses per event, we host a diverse array of industries, from graphic designers to members of Parliament. Open to both members and non-members, we create a welcoming and productive space for all.

An end to restrictions will mean our face-to-face sessions can return. Held in lavish venues across the region, we always feature a spotlight presentation followed by plenty of time to mingle with your fellow attendees. (Fizz and cake optional.) So for just £20 for non-members, what have you got to lose?

To find out more about The Cheshire Business Directory’s networking group, or to book your place on our next virtual event, call Kerry on 07501 896 445. And follow The Cheshire Business Directory to find out how we can get your business seen and heard.

More information about networking at this link Cheshire Business Networking Events • Cheshire Marketing & Cheshire Business Directory (cheshire-directory.co.uk)

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