I was at a networking dinner the other evening and seated next to me was a young lady fresh out of university. Half way through the evening she asked me a really interesting question. “What are the benefits of networking?”
My abbreviated answer to her was, “to connect with people”. She replied by saying that we could do that via social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and other digital platforms. We didn’t need to waste our time attending functions and physically meeting people, we could very easily connect with people online in the comfort of our own homes (and probably in our pyjamas I thought).
She was partially right and also very wrong for many reasons I believe. These days we are so connected with people around us, but yet we are so very disconnected. People will boldly state that they have over a thousand contacts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but what does that actually mean?
I may be old fashioned, but I believe that face-to-face networking cannot be replaced with online platforms. They should be used in conjunction with face-to-face networking, but never be a replacement. Have we gotten lazy with all of these alternatives?
So what are the benefits of networking? Actually let’s change that and ask, “What are the benefits of good networking?’
Networking in a face-to-face environment makes you focus on a number of key areas, which in turn benefit your business.
- Your mindset – Networking is not about you and how many business cards you can hand out or receive. It’s not about what other people can do for you, but what you can do for others. Going in with a “taker” mindset will set you up for failure right from the beginning, I can promise you that. Try to go in with a “giving” mindset. “How can I help these people?”How does that benefit your business? People like to work with people who care about others. Clients like to know that it’s about them and not about you.
- Your presentation – How you dress and present yourself to the crowd will determine how well you are accepted by the other party. Whether you like it or not, people will start developing an impression of you the minute they see you, even before you open your mouth. Make sure your dress code and non-verbal cues are showcasing the right message about you.How does that benefit your business? Creating good first impressions will start to build trust and eventually loyalty with your potential clients. Remember you are constantly on stage and how you present yourself will either attract new business or have them turn away.
- Your pitch – What’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth when introducing yourself and your business? If you cannot describe your business or the benefits of your business, you lose their attention.How does that benefit your business? Understanding your own business and confidently talking about the benefits, shows your potential client that you are confident, capable and genuinely passionate about what you do. That can be difficult to authentically showcase online.
- Your weaknesses – Attending a networking event can be extremely nerve-racking and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know anyone. Networking pushes you completely outside of your comfort zone into a a world of unknowns. There is no place to hide when attending a networking event, unless you spend the entire time in the loo. There is no screen to hide behind or virtual world to pretend in. Face-to-face networking builds your confidence and can set you apart from your competition if done correctly.How does that benefit your business? Finding ways to grow and develop your own skills and competencies will only benefit your business. The more you stretch yourself the better you become and the stronger your business becomes.
- The follow up – Networking doesn’t end when you leave the event. It has only just begun. What is your follow up strategy after the event? How will you re-inforce that first impression?How does that benefit your business? You start to build your own network of people who you admire, trust and support.
Nothing beats the good old fashioned face-to-face contact. If you want to grow your business and to create an everlasting impression, move away from behind the screen for a few hours and go and enjoy a cup of tea and some canapés with some other human beings. You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.