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Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

 Picture it — you're standing outside the event room, taking gulps of air and wiping your sweaty palms on the back of your pants. It's networking time, time to work the room and hand out your business cards and meet new people, people who can help grow your business. What were all those tips you were meant to remember again?

Ah, yes... 'Put giving before receiving,' says branding and marketing expert Donna RacheLson. 'Networking is a brilliant way to start and build business relationships, but it's not about making a sales pitch or collecting business cards.' She believes that by understanding the key issues bothering someone, their so called 'pain points', and by then offering advice to solve their problems, you'll be adding value and making a meaningful connection.

'Get out of your comfort zone when going to events and don't only speak to people you know,' says Jane Stevenson, strategic director of events company Magnetic Storm, who organises speed networking events for the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber. She recommends knowing your elevator pitch so you can make a memorable introduction: We live in a busy world filled with clutter, so this is your chance to stand out.'

Do your homework beforehand, too. 'Find out who might be attending the event and who you'd Like to meet,' says With happy holiday memories ebbing away, now's the time to focus on your business network and find ways to expand your circle of influence, writes Katherine Graham. Jason Bernic, a financial planning coach at Old Mutual Wealth. Ask one person to introduce you to another—the number of people you meet in one evening will be exponential'

Intelligent conversation is key, so brush up on the issues that concern your industry. 'Read as much as you can,' 4MONEY MATTERS NEW YEAR, NEW NETWORKS advises Phumeza Mgxashe of Partners for Possibility and formerly of the Business Women's Association. This means you can talk about a range of topics.'

WHAT NOT TO DO The worst thing you can do at a networking function is to be talking to someone and Looking over their shoulder the entire time, trying to see if someone better is coming along,' says Rachelson. She beLieves quaLity always trumps quantity. 'Networking is about making the best impression possible and being remembered by a few people who matter.' Any other networking nonos? 'Don't hang around with your own cokagues,' says Executive Search director Auguste Coetzer. If you go with someone eke, split up — this will force you to reach out to other people: What about talking to your competitors? This isn't taboo.

According to Coetzer, 'You'll be amazed at the information you obtain.' In your effort to be sociable, don't commandeer the conversation. Introverts have a natural advantage here over extroverts because they're good Listeners. Ask questions that show you are genuinely interested. Also be sensitive to the fact that not everyone wants to chat,' adds Stevenson. Avoid poor body language, advises business coach Bruce Wade. 'Business is similar to dating: the initial meeting, the first date, the follow-up, the second date and so on,' he says. Good body language is relaxed and confident, without being pushy. When greeting someone, shake hands firmly and Look them in the eye,' he says. If you're witty, tell a good story that will make others Laugh.

As Wade explains, This triggers the feel-good hormone oxytocin which generates a sense of empathy and trust.' ALWAYS FOLLOW UP It doesn't help to create a fabulous impression and then never speak to the person again. The best networkers always follow up and they do this consistently,' says Rachelson. By following up, you build relationships and deepen your network. And the deep relationships are the ones you will treasure.' Wade stresses the importance of finishing a conversation with an agreed call to action. 'Even if it is just a BUSINESS CARDS VS SOCIAL MEDIA '

Some people say we don't need business cards anymore because our world is so digital, but I disagree: says leadership coach Jamaaludeen Khan, who believes that the more business cards you garner, the better. You'll be able to follow up more easily on contacts made at the event 'Meeting people in the physical world and exchanging cards opens up further engagement online.' 'Use social media because people follow people: recommends Jason Bernic. 'But, as one social media guru once told me, "Be interesting:' Your message needs to resonate with the people that you are trying to target' brief encounter and card swap, end the discussion with a solid action that either you or they will take to enable a second date and followup,' he says. It could just be an email with a link to an interesting article that will enable the conversation to continue, or it could be an invite to sit down and talk more.

Whatever bold or scary steps you take to expand your network, you're sure to be rewarded. Step outside your realm of familiarity and enjoy the excitement that comes with challenge and growth,' says Bernic. 'Risk is always directly correlated with reward.' 

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marketing, marketing expert, Networking, sales

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