It’s not what you know…
Our Director Lee McQueen shares his know-how on building up a pool of contacts from scratch with Talk Business
Business is all about building relationships, and networking is one of the best ways to build strong, lasting relationships. Networking essentially means speaking to as many different people as possible, whether they are professionals at specific networking events or people you have known for years.
When starting out in a business, the first stage of building up a pool of contacts is to ask yourself who you already know. Out of your existing group of friends, who might be willing to share their experiences with you so that you and learn from for your own business development? And who do they know? The network that they have already established will help you to expand your own, as one name inevitably leads to another.
Be proactive when networking. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or to arrange face to face meetings over a coffee, because the chances are that people will be more than happy to answer your questions and pass on advice. Once a relationship is established, make an active effort to keep in touch with them rather than just contacting them when you need help. This isn’t just a case of asking how they are every so often; drop them a line to tell them about something you have found that might be of interest to them, whether it is a news piece or an article relating to something you have learnt from them, and suggest meeting to discuss it over a cup of coffee.
For those who are not born with the gift of the gab, the best approach is to do some preparation before networking opportunities. Decide who your audience is likely to be and work out the most effective way to approach your conversation with them. If you decide to focus on your product, you need to be able to talk passionately about it. Speaking with enthusiasm will not only ensure that your listener immediately understands exactly what your product is, but will also help to create a dynamic business relationship with them. The conversation should not necessarily come across as a pitch, and it certainly should not be complicated; often an informal chat will be far more rewarding. Keeping the conversation away from business and in the realm of a friendly chat is often the best way to network, as it is far more natural to build relationships on friendship than around business. It is simply a case of engaging people by chatting about things that will interest them or that you have in common, whether that be football, family or food. People will be far more willing to help a friend than a business acquaintance.
Building up a network of contacts has many advantages. Between them, these contacts contain a wealth of knowledge and experience which they will be eager to share with someone just starting out in their industry. Take advantage of this knowledge and ask their opinion on your own business ventures, or for advice when you encounter obstacles in your career. They will be glad to give you the chance to learn from any mistakes they have made – mistakes they wish someone had warned them against when they were beginning their career. The offer of a lunch in return for guidance will be hard for them to refuse.
Events that are held within your particular industry, such as recruitment or hospitality events, are often organised with networking in mind and are the perfect place to build on your base of contacts as well as on your networking skills. At such events, people are expecting you to come up to them to ask for their professional advice or to exchange business cards, and these are great opportunities to get your name known.
Social media is also extremely helpful. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn are all designed as networking tools and so should be fully taken advantage of. Personally, I regularly use LinkedIn for recruiting, and, to give a specific example, I recently used it to help an ex-client find work by putting him in touch with some of my own contacts, which lead to them recruiting him. This particular example shows how networking can be beneficial to all parties involved, as, with the help of LinkedIn, my company earned a nice fee from the recruiter and the ex-client ended up with a good job.
A career or a business will go nowhere without a good pool of contacts to back it up, so make the most of every networking opportunity as one will only lead to another.
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