For some, the thought of plunging headlong into an environment where they are surrounded by strangers with whom they appear to have nothing in common is worse than frightening, it's the nightmare scenario. "What will I say to them?" and "what if they don't like me?", I am often asked.
Along with the development of social media skills, mastery and confidence in networking are probably the crucial capabilities required by entrepreneurs who are looking to make a mark amongst potential customers, backers, supporters and advocates. Sadly for those afflicted with an inability to mingle, although social media expertise may get you to the front door of an important relationship, unconfident networking may ensure that the door is kept firmly locked.
So shall we change the record?
So what if you could turn the situation on its head and become a confident networker?
Not only could that open doors but it could change how others perceive you and your business, perhaps one that they would happily refer to others. What if you could turn networking into a joyful experience, one that you yearn for and look forward to? Rather than make it an episodic and rare excursion to the back of beyond, it could be bountiful, varied and regular - raising your business profile and strengthening new relationships.
So how can we make it joyful?
The great news is that most people struggle at networking, so by improving only a little you could leap ahead of your competitors and start developing relationships that they could only dream of.
Try these Top 10 tips to give yourself that unfair advantage:
1. Stop the negative self talk. First, stop telling yourself that you're poor at networking - that's rubbish. Start remembering those moments where you really shone being with others and imagine this is what you are doing now - just differently. A positive mindset will reflect through every step, smile or sentence that you make.
2. Choose your network. You don't have to go where everyone else goes, find a network where you can build your confidence and your skills. It may sound obvious, but f you want to reach specific people - go for networks where they are at.
3. Build the relationship first. Tempting though it might seem, you'll get short shrift if you try and sell your wares immediately. Your aim of networking should be to identify useful people and develop relationships with them.
4. Be genuine. By finding common areas of interest you are most likely to establish rapport - research before you go, and try and find something out about their business - particularly areas that they will be proud about.
5. Smile, speak, listen. The first contacts are crucial - the first 7 seconds will determine whether you are successful - make sure you smile, greet them and ask them a question - then listen....
6. Help them, help yourself. By being helpful, providing contacts or suggesting links, you are more likely to get positive help from those you network with. If you go for a win: lose approach, people won't want to help.
7.Tell them the why. Tell them why you are passionate about what you do - it's the best way to enthuse them about you and your business. They may not remember what exactly you do but if you come across as passionate, they'll want to be associated with you.
8. Agree to meet again. Suggesting to meet again is a great way to open up the conversation to future possibilities and also to allow you to move on. Tell them you'll contact them and make sure they get your business card.
9. Follow -up. Either a phone call or an email afterwards is essential to get that further appointment. Remember it's still about developing a relationship so be genuine, passionate and flexible.
10. Enjoy. Don't just persevere, enjoy. Relationships are rarely developed on first meetings, so make sure you build on those contacts and delight and the new friends you are making.