The dos and don’ts of networking

Successful networking by business owners and corporate figures is about gaining trust and building personal relationships, and is a necessary part of business for any professional.

Robyn Young, owner of Brandheart Marketing and Personal Branding

Robyn Young, owner of Brandheart Marketing and Personal Branding

However, in order to be successful at networking, business people and entrepreneurs need to realise the importance of building and promoting their personal brand, according to Robyn Young, corporate marketing strategist and owner of Brandheart Marketing and Personal Branding.

“You, as a personal brand, are one of the most powerful exposure and reputable building tools that your company has,” Young said at a Business Partners’ seminar on networking earlier this month. “So that is why it is incredibly important for you, the business owner, to build your personal brand.”

Like with any brand, the strength lies in the trust it has with its customers or clients, and networking events can be a means to establish trust in your personal brand. But there are a number of common mistakes professionals make.

Young said business people often go into a networking environment with the belief that they should project themselves as confident and strong. However, she said that actually the first impression that others will make of “us” is whether we are warm and trustworthy. “So we try to project one thing but the person opposite us is looking for something else,” she explained.

So how does one establish trust through networking?

Don’t sell services, sell your personal brand

“Number one is don’t arrive at a networking event and try to sell your services,” highlighted Young. “And I know that that sounds counterintuitive but that is the networking of old: when you walked into a networking room armed with your business cards and your brochures and you would try to pass them to as many people as possible, and while shaking hands with one person, you are looking over their shoulder at the next one. Well it’s not like that anymore. It’s about engaging one-to-one, it’s about building relationships and it’s about creating trust.”

This means spending more time listening to the person you are talking to and giving them more of your attention and focus.

“It’s about getting a smaller network of quality [rather] than a larger network of contacts,” said Young.

Do your research

The second way entrepreneurs can gain trust in their personal brand during a networking event is to prepare and research.

“If you are able to get access to a delegate list of people who are going to be at the networking event before you arrive, then have a look at that list,” suggested Young. “Identify the people you might want to meet, identify the people that you feel you might be able to help, and then do your research and your homework on them.”

She added that social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, are useful research tools and can help with preparing and targeting a successful elevator speech, where you have 30 seconds to introduce yourself.

Don’t use titles and credentials when introducing yourself

“If you introduce yourself by your title, you are a commodity, not a brand. Also, don’t give a catalogue of your services… people aren’t interested in that. People don’t care about you, really, they care about what you can do for them. They are not interested in what you do, they care about the outcomes and the results of what you do,” emphasised Young.

“If you show you understand your customers, and how you can make their world better, you have a stronger chance of getting their trust.”

During a networking event, you may also have to compete with others for the attention of a particular person, not knowing whether to interrupt or linger. When you find yourself waiting in line for your turn to speak to someone of interest to you, Young suggested that you briefly interact with the person you are hoping to talk to with a quick: “Hi, when you have a brief moment, I would like to chat with you.” That way you have caught the attention of the individual and have also let the other person know he cannot dominate their time.

Prepare a targeted elevator speech

“One of the most important things a business owner can do is learn how to speak about themselves in a way that inspires confidence from others.”

A successful elevator speech, or business pitch, should therefore begin by highlighting the problems facing the person or business you are targeting, followed by your solution, why you should be chosen to solve the problem and why they will benefit from using your services or products.

Young explained that one of the biggest mistakes people make during their elevator speech is to talk about themselves.

“Whether by email or by conversation, it’s all about preparing and finding out as much as you can about that person you are addressing,” added Young. “Understand that they have limited time and limited interest in reading your email or taking a call from someone they don’t know, but they also have a goal to achieve. So if you could get inside their head and understand what their boss or their shareholder requires of them, and then how you can help them in terms of that, then you have a good way of introducing your business.”