By Thomas Murrell MBA CSP, International Business Speaker
This time of year is ideal for sharpening and honing your networking skills. There is not a better time to start building long-term business relationships. Christmas offers a chance to meet new people in a relaxed and social atmosphere whilst maintaining a professional relationship level.
However it is important to uphold your professionalism to make optimum use of the networking opportunities.
Nine common mistakes people make when networking over the festive season include;
1. Not Planning Prior To The Event.
Work out what you want to achieve from going to the festive event. Is it just to relax, have fun and unwind after a busy year? Is it to say thank you to your clients, meet new people or build long-term relationships? Your approach will differ in all these situations. Have a plan prior to attending the event and try to reach set goals. An example might be to obtain three new key contacts or to reaffirm an existing relationship.
2. Running Out Of Business Cards.
There is nothing more embarrassing or unprofessional than when someone asks you for a business card and you can't produce one. Always carry too many rather than too few. Being prepared gives you more confidence and entrusts confidence when developing new relationships.
3. Making A Beeline For People You Know
Most people have a great fear of walking into a room full of people they don't know. See this as a challenge rather than a handicap and avoid going for the easy option of meeting people you know well first. Certainly acknowledge these people but leave them until the end of the function to catch up with. This will maximise your chances of meeting new people.
Make a goal to meet five new people at an event. Don't try and meet everyone of the 100 or so people at an event. Making a lasting impression with a few rather than a shallow interaction with many is far more beneficial.
4. Talking Too Much
Avoid talking too much about yourself. This is probably the biggest turn-off for prospective clients or alliance partners.
5. Not Listening
Business is all about providing solutions to people's problems. How can you understand their problems if you don't ask questions and listen? Use active listening skills to build rapport and gain a true understanding of their issues and concerns.
6. Hard Sell
Networking events are your opportunity to develop relationships. Avoid the hard-sell and get to know the person you are speaking with. Once the relationship has been established the business will come. Initial hard selling may have the opposite effect and drive the person away.
7. Lack Of Clarity
Research shows that 95 per cent of business people are often asked, particularly at a networking function "what do you do?"
Many have difficulty articulating what they do, particularly in conveying the benefits of their position to a prospective client. Having a 'personal branding statement' (PBS) really helps in this situation. It helps to clarify how you or your business can solve their problems and takes all the stress out of answering this question!
8. Over Indulgence
As with all things in life, moderation is key. In this context it includes limiting consumption of alcohol to an acceptable level and being mindful when introducing yourself to people. Remember you are a professional regardless of the situation or time of year. Respect those around you and your personal and professional responsibilities.
9. Not Following Up
Many people simply fail to follow-up on the prospects or business leads they meet at festive networking events. Put in place a system to follow-up, otherwise many of your networking efforts will be wasted. This can be as simple as an email or phone call to acknowledge your interaction and does not have to be business related. A relationship which might not seem to be initially good for your business may lead to you being referred on, one of the strongest marketing tools used to generate more business.
Good luck networking and building your social capital!
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