I was at the BIFM members’ event and AGM yesterday, and I spent some time observing how people networked during the event. Having spent many years learning the hard way what works, and – more to the point – what doesn’t, I’ve put together some tips, which I hope will be useful.
What is networking?
It’s all about building relationships and getting to know other people (their skills, attributes, interests and how you can help them) both within your field and outside it. These days, in industries such as FM where there can be many stakeholders, ‘knowing the right people’ can be a huge advantage. Managing your stakeholders is the key to running successful contracts, and involves identifying those people who have power and influence over the project and knowing exactly what you need from them. If you have already built relationships with them through your networking activity, they are more likely to help and support you and your teams.
Whether you want to change jobs, start out in a new field or simply find ways to be even better at what you do now, then you need to be marketing your skills, knowledge and experience right now.
How do I network?
Networking doesn’t need to be difficult; in fact many people find it to be fun and rewarding as part of their continued professional development. I bet you already belong to more networks than you realize.
Do you already belong to any of these:
- Industry associations (BIFM, FMA, CIPD, CIM etc)?
- Regional or sector groups to do with your work (Chamber of Commerce etc)?
- Special interest groups?
- Voluntary organisations?
- A lodge chapter?
- Social networks (Facebook, Friends Reunited etc)?
- Business networks online (LinkedIn etc)?
Now that you know who you already have in your network, who else would you like? Consider the following:
- People in your team
- Other people in your organisation
- People working with your clients and suppliers
- People you have worked with in the past
- Local community groups
What can you give?
People will be keener to network with you if they (and you!) are clear about what you can offer them. Perhaps you can help in terms of mentoring, putting them in touch with reputable suppliers, working on community projects together, sharing latest ideas on hot topics such as sustainability etc.
It is well worth spending some time, once you have identified your target networks, to clarify what you want to offer and what you would like in return.
For example, as an Executive Coach working with FM Professionals, I may want to target the editors of trade publications, to promote my business. In exchange I can offer articles and advice on people development, the benefits of coaching, and perhaps offer discounted rates to their readers.
So now you know who you want to bring into your network, what you want from them and what you can help them with. The next step is to find them and enable them to get to know you.
Networking is no longer limited to face to face sessions – in this age of technology, there are a myriad of online forums, blogs and other groups where like-minded people can share their knowledge.
(A word of caution – take care who you give your details to online – as far as you can ask for recommendations for online forums from people you trust. You don’t want to end up with 400 spam emails in your inbox every day!)
However, face to face meetings will help people remember you – start saying YES to the meeting requests you get, the after work events, the seminars and workshops – and go armed with plenty of business cards – your card is your silent salesman, reminding people of you after you’ve left.
OK, I’m ready to get networking!
If you are planning to go to an event, here are some invaluable tips:
- Get hold of a delegate list if you can and research who’s going to be there and their companies – if there are particular people you want to meet, make a beeline for them
- Develop and use your own 60 second introduction which will capture their interest and help them remember you, e.g. ‘Hi, I’m Jane Smith from Hardy’s Electronics. (They’ll introduce themselves then they’ll ask what you do.) I’m responsible for inspiring all our people to make a difference through the management development programmes I facilitate’
- Arrive early so you are not faced with masses of faces when you walk in
- If you feel a bit awed by the whole thing, go up to someone who is by themself – they’ll be thankful they don’t have to stand on their own anymore. Have the confidence to make the first move and start to build a relationship. You’ll be surprised at the response you’ll get
- Use someone’s name as soon as you are introduced to them – it will help you remember it
- When someone approaches you, give them your full attention
- Let the other person speak – people would rather talk than listen and it’s amazing what free information they give out. . Ensure that your relationship-building conversations are two-way and evenly balanced. Ideally, you should know as much about the other person by the end of any conversation as they know about you. Ask about them, probe using phrases such as, ‘tell me more about that…’, ‘what do you feel about…?’
- Write notes on the back of other people’s business cards, so you can remember them after the event – I keep an index box in my car with a card for everyone I meet, notes about their family, places they want to visit, interests etc, so I can make them feel important next time I meet them – it’s very effective
- Show interest with body language, use words to show you are listening actively
- Be active and visible – volunteer your expertise to the group. Many networks are on the lookout for speakers and other volunteers to make the events run smoothly – get yourself known by getting involved
- If you commit to following up a contact, do it when you say you will.
You will get out of networking what you put into it. The more networks you’re part of, the more you become someone that people can turn to. This builds a network around you of people who will be more than happy to help out in return.
Let me know how you get on!
For more information about us, contact Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org