‘Networking’ is one of those words in business that causes most people to recoil in horror.
Decades of pushy salespeople, awkward introductions and directionless conversations have turned the idea of networking into something that many people — not just the introverts — instinctively reject.
But are we missing something important by painting networking in such a bad light?
Below, we take a look at what the data says about networking — and what you can do to get the most out of it.
The state of networking today
Flicking through your LinkedIn feed might make you think that practically everyone is out networking constantly — everyone but you.
The data, however, says otherwise. In fact, one in four people don’t network at all.
And all those people you see online who seem to be natural networkers? They’re in the minority. Only 11% of LinkedIn users have more than 100 people in their network, despite the fact that humans can operate up to 150 stable relationships at once.
One thing is clear: there’s not as much networking going on as everyone thinks there is — and that gives the true networkers a real edge.
Networking for new business
Let’s be honest. When we talk about networking, we’re not really talking about making friends — we’re talking about finding exciting new business opportunities.
In today’s time-poor business world, though, face-to-face networking is put on the backburner and a lot of those opportunities get missed. Instead, we rely on social media platforms like LinkedIn to keep tabs on potential clients and partners.
But is our neglect of in-person networking hurting our prospects?
Research shows that 72% of people say their first impressions of a person are impacted by how they appear and by their handshake. Moreover, your chances of converting a prospect in a face-to-face discussion are as high as 40%.
If the stats are anything to go by, networking is certainly worth the price of admission.
How to network for new business
Know who’s who ahead of time — A lot of industry events will publish a list of attendants. Make the most of this. Scope out who’ll be there that meets your target client criteria or who has the potential to be a great business partner in the future. Make it your objective to meet these people in person.
Don’t pitch: connect — Going straight in with the pitch is a big mistake. It’s the reason so many people hate networking. Instead, figure out what you can connect over. Was there a speaker that you both found particularly relevant? A shared interest in a particular author? Use your first chat to get to know what motivates them and what their frustrations are.
Follow up later — When you’ve connected, get their contact details and follow up with your pitch within the next week or so. Don’t go all in: ask them the question and get them engaged in a conversation first. Things will progress naturally from there.
Networking to sustain existing relationships
Even if you have an outstanding close rate for new business, your company will crumble if it can’t retain its existing customers.
Networking is key to maintaining a healthy, happy client list. In fact, nearly 100% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term partnerships, and 85% say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during in-person business meetings and conferences
How to use networking to strengthen relationships
Organise regular face-to-face meetings — Getting regular time with your business connections is vital, whether that’s a monthly review or simply a catch-up over coffee. Use this time to read subtle signals like tone and body language to nip any dissatisfaction in the bud before it grows into something worse.
Host fun get-togethers — Inviting people in your network to a more casual event gives your relationships room to breathe. It’s easier to ask personal questions that will give you an insight into what they really care about than it is in a formal meeting. You can use that in your strategies when you get back to the office.
Networking for recruitment
The biggest barrier to networking? The time it takes to do it well. In fact, 41% of people say they can’t network as much as they’d like because they don’t have time.
The reason many businesses don’t have time to network is that they’re chronically understaffed. Recruiting is hard and expensive, so our instinct is to hold back on the events to get through the mounting workload.
But what if networking could solve that problem?
Today, 85% of jobs are filled through networking and almost 80% of all jobs aren’t even published yet. That’s a lot of candidates leaving the job market because of a simple conversation.
And it’s not just senior roles, either. 68% of entry-level professionals value face-to-face networking more than online.
If you’re not there having those conversations, you’re missing your chance to connect with the majority of your recruitment prospects. That’s going to hurt your time far more than any afternoon event will.
How to recruit through networking
Network before the job is advertised — Sometimes you can turn away candidates that would have otherwise been perfect for a role because of a small detail in the job description. Try networking before you’ve written up the job ad. By speaking with relevant candidates, you’ll work out where you should be flexible and what your non-negotiables are.
Don’t mention the role until the right moment — If someone knows you’re recruiting, they’ll subconsciously alter the way they act in order to fit into the mould they think you’re looking for. Hold off mentioning roles; instead, learn as much as you can about them. You’ll get a much more accurate picture of who they are, and if they’re not right for the job, you won’t have to go through the awkward rejection process either.
Sow the seeds for future roles — Even if you don’t need to hire right now, you will in the future. Nurture relevant relationships in a diverse range of roles so that you have a go-to candidate if anything comes up. They’re more likely to consider the opportunity if they know you well, saving you hefty recruitment fees.
Start networking well
While the data is eye-opening, it’s only useful if you apply it yourself. Investing time in face-to-face relationships gives you the winning edge in an increasingly digital world, so use that to your advantage.
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