We all know that networking is a must for everyone in business, but what if you’ve been out of the workplace for a few years?

Many people returning to work are understandably anxious about networking. Is it worth it? Where do you start? Which networking events should you go to? How do you begin a conversation with complete strangers? Should you follow up, and how do you follow up on leads?

Why network?

Networking is vital in today’s business world, to build relationships and spread the name of your business. We use it to create and maintain a strong contact base, and learn from others.  At the very least, it’s a chance to have a break from the office and computer, and at best it’s a chance to relax, socialise and get to know more people who might be in a position to help you and your business.

Networking is one of the most valuable uses of time in terms of return—and not just in monetary terms. It’s full of like-minded individuals, and if you go to the right events, it’s full of people that you can work with or learn from in some way.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like all things, networking can take a bit of practice. First of all, give yourself a soft landing and connect with old friends and people you used to work with. This will give you a good base, and from there you can ask them if they know anyone in the same business as you, and would be willing to introduce you to. Plan and rehearse what you want to say about yourself and your business – time spent building your confidence is never wasted.

Let them know you’re back at work and want to be in touch. The bottom line is people like to help more than you realise, and there’s no better feeling than knowing that you helped make something happen with a simple introduction.

Networking events

Face to face networking events create lasting impressions in the minds of the people you meet, and can always lead to further opportunities for both parties, in terms of help, advice, and business.

There are plenty of networking events out there, and you’ll soon find a networking group that you feel comfortable with (a local breakfast group such as the Fleet Business Group, monthly networking lunches or coffee mornings at places like the Farnham Hub). Practice a few introductory conversation openers in front of the mirror, make sure you smile, and if you’re nervous about going into a room full of strangers, remember that they all started knowing no one there too – feel free to admitting to nerves! Experienced networkers will always leave a gap in their group for other people to join, and are happy to start new conversations. Watch and learn from people who look confident – in no time at all, this will be you!

Don’t forget, if you get stuck with someone really boring, try the old “my glass/coffee cup is empty – please excuse me while I get a refill” trick and move on to another group. It always works!

Most social networking events provide a laidback atmosphere to chat with similar people, and these informal chats often lead to opportunities and potential ways you can work together.

Research

Most networking groups send out a list of attendees in advance, so spend a bit of time on research and find out who you would like to meet, and ask one of the organisers to introduce you. They’ll be happy to help and after all, it’s why you’re there!

Follow Up

After networking events, make sure to stay connected with those that you meet. Take a look at the business cards you received, connect on LinkedIn, and email those people about what you discussed while it is still fresh in your mind. People will notice and remember you if you do, and as we always say, manners maketh marketing!

Good luck out there – it really isn’t a jungle!

 

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