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Let’s Talk about Networking…

Let’s Talk about Networking…

Written by Lesley Anderson 

Now that we’re venturing out into the world again (and I am only a tiny bit envious of those of you who have negotiated the testing and vaccine passport challenges to get your dose of sunshine and sangria), it seems like a good time to talk about networking. 

Love networking or running for the hills? 

The business community is most definitely split into those who are desperate to meet as many people as possible and restart the whirl of networking that Exeter has on offer – and those who gave a huge sigh of relief when all the events were cancelled last March.  So, networking is not for everyone.  

Having accepted that, let’s look at networking and how you can learn to love it. Ok, at least tolerate it. 

There are some very well-established networks in the Exeter region, including LinkedIn Locals, Exeter Chamber, NatWest Boost, Your Partnerships and many, many others run by professional networks or by companies like Michelmores. It’s worth asking your colleagues for some recommendations on which ones might be best for you to start with; ask about the kind of businesses that tend to go to each network, the purpose and format of the event (is there a speaker, do you have to stand up and introduce yourself etc). Take a look on EventBrite and see what’s coming up. 

Networking is a long-term investment in relationships and visibility. The best networkers focus on others, not themselves. They get to know people and they go out of their way to connect others with mutual interests and business requirements. In the long term, this earns them a lot of respect and the referrals come their way. 

Top tips on starting networking 

Do your research and pick two or three networks to try out that sound likely to have people there that you’ll like and want to get to know better 

Arrange to go to your first one with someone you know, to avoid that sinking feeling of not knowing a single person in the room. 

Get to the meeting early – it’s much easier to start talking to a handful of people in the room than to walk into a room full of people and not know where to start. 

Wear something bright! You might as well get noticed. 

Prepare a simple one-liner that clearly explains what you do 

Go with the attitude that the meeting is simply an opportunity to meet interesting people.  Ask questions about them and their business and observe how the event is run.  

Use the LinkedIn app to make connections – you can use the app instead of exchanging business cards by scanning the QR code on your mobiles. You can then message your new connections and start building those relationships.  

Go to a couple of meetings before you decide if the network is for you. Online networking is likely to remain in our lives for some time so try out both formats and see which you prefer. 

People expect others to talk to them at network events – so it is perfectly ok to walk up to a group who are already talking and ask if you may join them.  It’s also a good ice-breaker to say that you are new to networking and ask for their thoughts about this particular network. 

Networking, either in person or on LinkedIn, has been my main source of leads for years. It took about two years to build up a solid network of people around me that I trust, rely on and have no hesitation in recommending to others. Many of those people have also become friends. Networking enriches my business life, is the rock bed of my sales pipeline and adds a dimension that I would miss enormously if I stopped taking part. I hope that you feel the same, once you start! 

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