While networking is a good source of business, there are still many new copywriters and other freelancers who approach it with some trepidation. There’s no doubt walking into a room full of strangers can cause a few anxious moments, for even the most gregarious amongst us. So if nerves are affecting your networking opportunities, what can you do about it?
Networking is a ‘slow burn’ activity. If you go along armed with a handful of business cards and expect to come away with a clutch of copywriting clients, you’re going to be sadly disappointed! Networking is about building relationships.
The person you’re talking to might not need your services, but networking doesn’t stop there. What about that person’s next door neighbour, his PA’s husband, or his company accountant? The average person knows hundreds of people and when you talk to someone, that’s who you are networking with. Remember the six degrees of separation? But nobody is going to recommend your services until they get to know you. So don’t treat networking as a one-off activity – you have to persevere and attend regularly.
Of course networking is a social activity, but it’s important to remember why you’re there. It’s a good idea to have a strategy and set yourself some objectives before you go, for example:
A few years ago I met two very enterprising young marketers who built their business through networking. They made a list of all the people they wanted to meet and did their homework. They attended the right networking events and, one by one, got to meet everyone on their list. Not many people are that dedicated, but it does show the effectiveness of setting yourself objectives.
We were once involved in a survey of newcomers to a networking group. Without exception, the biggest bogeyman was the thought of entering a room and starting a conversation. If this is you, think about it … why is everyone there? Like you, they’re there to network and talk to others. So will other people object if you walk up and start a conversation? No! They’ll be only too pleased to meet you. After all, you and your network might just put work their way!
When you walk into a room full of people, stop and look at their feet. Body language is a wonderful thing. If two people are standing with their feet straight and pointing towards each other, breaking into that conversation will be difficult. They are engrossed. However, if they’re standing a bit further back with their feet splayed, they are open and receptive to new approaches.
Aaargh! Speaking in public? Panic! When you’ve only got 30 seconds or a minute to introduce yourself, what do you say? Some networking groups are ruthless about the time, so if you waffle you might find yourself cut off before you’ve even warmed to your subject. Getting your elevator pitch right and well-rehearsed is vital. If it helps, keep some notes to hand in case you dry up.
As a copywriter, you should be able to write yourself a good introduction. So spend some time writing a few different pitches and ring the changes. The same people saying the same thing, meeting after meeting, gets tedious even for the most ardent networker.
Just a few more tips to help soothe your networking nerves …
Think about the dress code! If you arrive wearing your old jeans and tee-shirt, you might feel daunted being surrounded with smartly dressed professionals. So scrub up well and put your best foot forward.
If all else fails … smile! Who can resist a great big genuine smile, even if it’s from a total stranger. And funnily enough, the tone of your voice changes when you’re smiling.
Don’t dominate the conversation! Networking is a two-way street, so be prepared to listen to others too.
Don’t go without your business cards! Networking meetings are full of people who apologise and say ‘ Sorry, I’ve run out and haven’t had time to get more printed’. If that’s the case, they would be better off staying at home and ordering them online!
If you’re still nervous, try arriving early! That way other people will be keen to come and talk to you.
Now you’ve found them … hold on to them! You’re first job when you get back to your desk should be to send an email to your new-found networking friends. It doesn’t take much … sending a short ‘good to meet you’ message is polite and opens up a whole new line of communication. Yet this is probably the one thing most networkers fail to do.
Blog post by Joy McCarthy