As an introverted business owner, I have found the thought of in-person and online networking with people brings me out in a nervous cold sweat, and makes me feel physically sick to the point where I want to retreat back to the comfort and safety of my bed. Of course, this feeling was quickly dispelled after my very first networking session at the Hampshire Athena Network in the spring of 2018, where I was made to feel very welcomed in a supported all-female environment.
However, over the years I have never truly bonded with networking as a whole, but I always saw it as a handy tool to grow my business based on the know, like and trust factor, which is why I’ve always tried to persevere with it. Networking as a whole is a slow burner, but very much worthwhile as the key is nurturing the relationships you build with your fellow network members – it’s not always about whos in the room, but more so about the people they know and can connect you with.
Since the 2020 pandemic, I was somewhat relieved that networking shifted to the online world. This meant no travel time, so I could literally roll out of bed and hop on a zoom with my pyjama bottoms still on – of course, I made an effort up top! Online networking also meant, less time schmoozing with pointless small talk, and as an introvert, I hated nothing more than mindless chit-chat. I’m all about getting deep into that juicy centre and learning about what really lights you up, rather than knowing what your cat ate for breakfast today.
But unfortunately, even online networking comes with a few displeasures. Over the last few years of online networking, I have come across some innocent but annoying faux pas I have experienced and thought I’d share a few handy tips on how to brush up on your networking etiquette so that you can get the best results from your online networking journey.
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One of my favourite business mantras is… “Fail To Prepare, Then Prepare To Fail” which is just so true, because if you took the time to prepare, it means the outcome has a higher chance of being successful – the same goes for networking.
To gain the best results from your online networking meeting, you should always come prepared, and that goes for online and in-person meetings. For example, you should have a clear understanding of your business goals, your core values, vision and mission which is the foundation of what you should be talking about when you get your chance to pitch your business at the very start of the meeting. Elevator pitches are short and sweet, so be clear and concise with the key message you want to get across.
I also think when you book a networking meeting, you should show up on time and not be late, if you regularly arrive halfway through a meeting, it makes you look tardy, rude and unreliable – this is the impression you could be unconsciously sending to other members. One tip on how to avoid this is to add the appointment to your diary – ideally, a digital diary where it can automatically ping you a reminder an hour or even just 10 minutes before the meeting starts. Just a few minutes of organised prep work can save you an embarrassment or a bad reputation.
One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to inconsiderate members ramble on and on, not giving a toss about the other members. The main reason is, that online networking is normally time-limited to an hour or so, which means it’s the host’s job to make sure everyone gets their chance to speak about their business. Unfortunately, there is always at least one person that turns their 1-minute pitch into a 5-minute long monologue about themselves, which quite frankly is just plain selfish!
This type of networker, you’ll be able to spot a mile off, because they normally butt into conversation and deliberately speak over you. They’ll also have an inflated ego and are just generally full of self-importance, always pushing for the hard sell and showing no interest in building a relationship with you or respecting your time – please don’t be this type of networker and quite simply, just don’t be a dick.
Instead, please be mindful of the time and try to make sure when you are inside a ‘break-out room’ that you make sure everyone gets a fair amount of time to speak. Be friendly, smile and show interest in getting to know other members and their business. If you show respect, you will receive the same level of respect back – and that all contributes to growing your business.
Don’t Be Too Salesy
The biggest misconception about networking is that it is a place to sell to people – wrong! And when other members do this to me, especially when it’s our first introduction it gives me the absolute ick and raises a huge red flag.
The formula for successful networking is to really focus on the ‘know, like and trust’ model. The KLT model is a marketing concept, that is becoming more and more important. The goal is to get your audience, prospects, leads, customers, or clients to understand and eventually believe in your brand, which then leads to sales. The whole point of networking is to warm people up and bring visibility to your brand, not to be a sleazy salesman, that’s a fast way to turn people off you.
Instead just focus on asking deeper, more meaningful questions to the other members, such as “what was the reason you started your business?” or “what is the meaning behind your business name?’ You can even ask questions that aren’t necessarily business-related because it allows you to understand them more and relate to them on a human level.
This is probably the BIGGEST etiquette tip I need to emphasise the most because there is nothing worse than being stuck inside a break-out room on Zoom, with another member who seems distracted and showing no signs of being interested in what you have to talk about.
Recently, I had the displeasure of trying to interact with a distracted and bored individual, and it left me feeling angry and pissed off. This particular member thought it was appropriate to start replying to emails, answering her phone, scoffing her breakfast and filing paperwork whilst on a networking call. My question is, why bother turning up at all? You wouldn’t do this in an in-person meeting, so why does it make it ok to do this online? – it’s f*cking inappropriate!
The member showed a lack of interest in the ‘know, like and trust’ model and the fact she couldn’t be bothered to stay engaged completely put me off her as a person and her business. Am I gonna like her? No! Am I gonna trust her? No! Am I gonna refer her? Definitely not! As a result, she had done herself a disservice and potentially lost business because of her actions.
My biggest advice, and if you’re gonna take anything away from me today is please look engaged when other people are speaking – even if you’re bored out of your mind, at least make eye contact, fake a smile and give a nod every so often to show you’re listening. It really makes a big difference!
As an empathic business owner, I can spot if someone has good or bad intentions when they turn up to an online networking meeting. I get it – the long-term goal of networking, is we’re there to grow our business and make money, but it goes much deeper than that. I feel you should always have a reason to connect with someone beyond ‘What can they do for me?’.
What I mean by that is, that networking is there to learn from others and to open your horizons, not just to advance your business. It means that you should not be looking to build a network of superficial connections. Don’t just connect with people you think can help you or buy from you, but try to connect with people you think you can help or learn from in an honest and authentic way.
That by far is the quickest way to grow your business – just be you and show up authentically every time and you will build a community of like-minded people that will connect, learn, grow and even refer you.
Do You Love Online Networking?
Networking can be a bit like marmite for some individuals, you either love it or you hate it.
Done in the right manner, networking can be such a powerful tool in your business plan. Although some female entrepreneurs give networking a bad name and could do with a lesson or two in networking etiquette – please don’t let the silly few put you off networking, because it’s played a huge factor in growing my business and meeting new clients.
Not everyone begins as a natural networker and it can take time to adjust, or an experience that will grow on you over time as you adjust your mindset around networking. I’d love to know what you truly think of networking, do you love it, hate it or don’t mind it? Drop me a comment below!
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