Nine tips on how to network like a pro

Conferences, product launches and other corporate functions can be good platforms to make business contacts and to meet potential new clients. Guy Lundy, CEO of think tank Accelerate Cape Town, shares some tips on how to get the most out of networking.

1. Network with the right people. Are you networking with your competitors or your potential customers? One of the mistakes that many people make is that they network with people who are doing the same things as themselves. You see it a lot with consultants – they join other consultants in networking sessions. And frankly they are all competing with each other for the same business. That is relatively useless, unless you want to share ideas around how to do better business.

2. Do you have a business card? Never arrive without business cards. You are not a proper networker if you are leaving your business cards at home. In the last five years I have given away over 2,000 business cards, which means that I received at least 2,000 business cards. That is how one builds a network because you are then put in touch with more people as you go forward. Of course, collecting business cards on its own, only gets you so far. It is what you do with those business cards. When you have gained over 2,000 business cards, it is very likely that by the time you get to 2,000 you would have forgotten what number one was. What I try to do as often as I can is write on that business card where I networked with that person, what we spoke about, what they do, and why they might be important to me at some point in the future.

3. Don’t talk to just one person the entire night. If you spend the whole night talking to somebody that may or may not be of interest to you, you are only going to limit yourself. Diplomats are really good at this. I go to a lot of diplomatic functions, and diplomats flit a lot. As a result they meet a lot of different people at these functions.

4. I know that guy. An easy thing to do, especially if you are shy about getting out there and meeting people, is to find somebody that you recognise or somebody that you know who is surrounded by other people. Because they know you, the ice is already broken. They will be able to introduce you to the people they are talking to. It is a good way of getting into a group and meeting people other than the person you already know.

5. Never dismiss somebody as not being of use to you before you actually found out whether they are or aren’t. There is the classic story of the young black guy in shorts and flip-flops that walks into the Porsche dealership. The Porsche dealer ignored him because he thinks that he is not Patrice Motsepe. In actual fact he almost had as much money as Patrice Motsepe and could probably buy three or four Porsches. Dismissing somebody because you think they are not going to be worth much to you, before you find out whether that is true or not, is something that is a fundamental error.

6. Use people’s names. It makes them feel good, and it helps you to remember their name. If you don’t use people’s names, it is very easy for you to forget their names and who they are. When you introduce yourself to people, use your name and say what you do. It makes you interesting. It makes people ask questions about what you do.

7. Say something. Ask a question. Give an input. Show that you are actually worth talking to. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being in a group of six people, where one person just sits and watches and smiles and doesn’t actually add anything to the conversation. You are not going to get anything out of it, and neither is anybody else.

8. You are a brand. Personal branding is a very important element of networking. I personally always overdress. And that is just because I meet business people all day long and I don’t know whether that business person is going to be in jeans or in a tuxedo. So I need to dress according to the top of that list, rather than the bottom of that list. Always be well groomed, no matter how you are dressed. Even if you are in jeans, make sure they are nice jeans.

9. Be yourself. Don’t try and be somebody that you are not because that charade is going to run out at some point. But do also remember that you can change over time and as a result your personal brand can change over time. Just ask Madonna how it’s done.

This article is a slightly edited version of Lundy’s speech at one of Accelerate Cape Town’s recent “Inspiration Sessions”.