After using online networking for over a year, it is becoming possible once again to hold face-to-face business networking events. But have things changed? Does your networking approach need to be changed?
Business networking is a critical aspect of getting a business established and growing it, whether you are an employer or a sole trader. It is all about your business becoming better known, meeting prospective strategic partners and collaborators, learn from other business people, and finding new ways to market your business.
Before Covid struck, face-to-face networking meeting was the standard format for networking. The meeting structure, place, and time varied, but meeting online was unusual.
Then everything suddenly changed.
When this occurred the only option became online networking. People reacted to this in various ways. Many people enjoyed how easy it is to travel further afield, meeting new people, and try new groups. Other people really missed the personal touch that face-to-face networking offers. For many people, the limitations of home office space and broadband made it difficult, and at times, impossible, to participate in.
A chance to review your networking
With networking going back to physical meetings, it can be easy to just go back to your old networking ways. However, over the past 18 months, one thing it has given us is the chance to stop doing the things we have always done in the past, review them, and make any necessary changes.
So if you are returning to face-to-face networking, step back and consider whether you can make it work smarter and harder for you.
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What has remained the same?
Before discussing what has changed, it is worthwhile to remember that the fundamentals involved in successful business networking have not changed.
- Be selective. Your work week has limited time. Each minute that you spend in a network meeting is time you are not spending on doing something else. So be sure to choose carefully. Do the other attendees have the same outlook as you and are they similar in scale? Does the group contain strategic partners and useful collaborators? Is it a good meeting format for you?
- Measure. Be very clear about how you plan to measure the success of your networking. Is it sales, conversions, leads, introductions? No matter what it is, establish what your measure is and keep track of whether your goals are being met.
- Plan. Know what you would like to get out of every meeting. Is there an introduction you want to have facilitated or a specific person you would like to meet? What are you searching for? What would you like to say about your business? Before going, check out the attendee list and determine who you would like to speak with.
- Follow up. Successful networking goes well beyond the meeting. Make sure you follow up with introductions and 121s. If you were unable to meet someone who you had on your target list, try to get in contact with them following the event
What has changed?
This extraordinary situation has given us all the chance to stop and think, change and review. Some people have significantly changed what and how they do business, while others have returned to their old ways.
No matter what your situation is, it is essential for you to recognise what might have changed for other businesses and people, and respond appropriately.
- Social anxiety. For each person who fully embraces the chance to return to normal, there is also an individual who is apprehensive about group and face-to-face events. No matter what the reason is for their anxiety, it can impact how they interact with others. So make sure you are considerate of responses that are different from yours. If face-to-face meetings are something you feel anxious about, do whatever you can to minimise these concerns. Let people know if you prefer to not shake hands. If wearing a face mask makes you feel more comfortable, then wear one. If you are happy being mask-fee and shaking hands, do not assume everyone feels the same way.