How to take the nerves out of networking

Growth and strategy

28 November 2022

Networking. A ten-letter word that strikes terror into the hearts of even the most seasoned of conversationalists and business owners alike.  

But even though it’s often viewed as a necessary evil, networking can do your business some serious good. From connecting you with new clients, to raising the profile of your company, there’s a whole host of rewards you can reap if you take the networking leap.

So how do you pitch your business to a room full of strangers when the butterflies fluttering in your stomach leave you feeling flustered? We’ve got advice from Wendy Harris, owner of WAG Associates and Charlotte Yau, founder of Muihood.

Here, we explore nailing the perfect elevator pitch and top tips on how to turn networking from nerve-wracking to everyone’s favourite three-letter word: fun.  

Why do you think networking makes so many business owners nervous?

Wendy: I’m a fairly confident person and even though I’ve got 30 years of networking experience under my belt, I still find it terrifying! I think people get so nervous because they know they’re going to be judged. And when you’re presenting yourself to a room full of strangers, all you want to do is be liked.

There’s a misconception that if you don’t speak to every single person at a networking event that you’ve wasted your time. But naturally, not everybody is going to be interested in doing business with you.

The crucial thing for me at networking events is that you search for the worth in everybody you meet and weigh up how they could potentially benefit your business. You never know, the next person you speak to could be your next customer or they could recommend your business to your next big lead.

Why do you think networking is important for small business owners?

Charlotte: For a solo founder, or for any founder really, my biggest tip or advice would be to join a community or a network. I’ve got so much value from joining these types of communities. It’s that collective feeling that we’re all in this together. It’s a really hard job, it takes a lot of stamina. So being able to ask someone a question and being able to talk to someone who has been there before is so helpful.

I joined a female founder community called Babes on Waves and that’s how I scouted the first models for my photoshoots. Just being online and sending messages out there, that’s how I’ve been able to get this far. It’s the power of community.

Is the elevator pitch still relevant?

Charlotte: You definitely need to work on your pitch. You never know who you’re going to meet at networking events, genuinely. That’s how I’ve met my formulator and my manufacturer! People have to see you and your energy. They have to believe your vision. If people see the excitement from you they can radiate off of that and that’s how I’ve been able to connect to people. People see the vision and then it leads to an email or a coffee.

How do you write the perfect elevator pitch?

Wendy: I think the most important thing when working on your elevator pitch is to do what makes you feel the most comfortable. Practice makes perfect, so if you feel better constantly running over your introductory pitch until it feels like second nature when you’re presenting to new audiences, do it.

When the spotlight is on me during my elevator pitches, I tend to pick up on something that someone has said in their elevator pitch and adapt it into my speech to show how the services my business provides can meet their business needs. This can be a great way of breaking the ice with new people and deciding on who you’ll talk to at networking events.

What are your top tips for networking successfully?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to getting the most out of networking, but here are a few things Wendy has recommended that you keep in mind:

1. Go in with a game plan

Knowing what you want to get out of every networking event is vital. Always rock up with a strategy, a set of goals and your endgame in mind, otherwise you’ll feel aimless. Whether your aim is to secure a one-to-one with a specific client or open job opportunities, it’s a good idea to have a clear set of goals prior to attending a networking event because ultimately you want it to help drive your business forward in some way.

2. Always aim for return on investment

Networking takes up your valuable time. And if you’re not working, you’re not being productive or making money, so you need to make this deficit up by getting the most of networking events that you can. A return on investment doesn’t strictly have to be monetary, and can range from achievements like raising the profile of your business to establishing new contacts, but the key thing to focus on is making sure you get something out of the time, money and effort you put in.

3. Speak to as many people as you can

Whenever I attend a networking event regularly, there’s always the same pockets of people who flock to each other. Keep in mind that you’re here to network, not for a gab over a coffee with the same faces. This is fine every once and a while but try not to fall into the habit of doing this too regularly. Networking is all about putting yourself out there and connecting with new people. If you spot new people in the room, go and see what they can offer!

4. Be savvy with social media

Be savvy with your business’ social media networks. Use them to broadcast that you’re attending specific events and ask if anyone would like to meet up for a coffee if they’re free – it’s a great way of setting up casual meetings with people. Social media is also a great way of promoting what customers have said about working with you too. Make sure you share the positive feedback and reviews you get from clients regularly to give potential clients and customers a clearer idea of what it’s like to work with you.

5. Try out as many different networking events as possible

Put yourself out there and attend as many different networking events as you can. Whether it’s an exhibition or speed-networking, go where there’s plenty of people – and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be open-minded and attend lots of different types of networking events to see what works best for you

6. Be yourself

People will see through you almost immediately if you’re putting a front on. Focus on being open, honest and friendly and you’ll get much more fruitful results from networking.

How to find networking events?

Quite often the best networking events are circulated through word of mouth. The catch with this is that sometimes the best networking events can have really limited spaces, so try and make yourself stand out if you can.

Eventbrite is a great platform to use when you’re on the hunt for your next networking venture and tends to have loads of free events. Chambers of commerce are great at promoting local networking groups and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye for upcoming exhibitions.

Facebook has a really useful events section too, which allows you to set up parameters based on your interests, and it’s always worth asking your connections on LinkedIn and your other social media channels for recommendations of networking events they’ve enjoyed.

Is networking useful for a small business owner?

Nine times out of ten, the business owners you meet when networking will have faced, or may be amid, the struggles, challenges and successes that come part and parcel of running a business. Networking events are excellent opportunities where small businesses can support one another by sharing advice, best practice and solutions to help make their business run that little bit better.  

If networking still isn’t for you but you want to make some great business connections, find out more about AXA’s Startup Angel and the amazing mentors you get access to as a winner.

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