1. Arrive early
It can be daunting being one of the first to arrive at a networking event, but arriving early has its benefits. Business Network International (BNI), the world’s largest referral organisation with various chapters across the UAE, advocates punctuality. Lucy Hay, director of the Rising Phoenix Chapter of BNI explains her approach when it comes to her business, Expressions Arabia: “Although a cliché, the early bird really does get the worm. By arriving early you get the chance to network with people who are serious about being there. It also gives you the chance to meet more people who are like-minded and there for the same reason as you.”
2. Have a self-message
Being prepared with a clear message is crucial, says Phil Bedford from The Referral Institute, an organisation that teaches business professionals how to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing. “Have a clear explanation of what your business entails and share that in a confident manner. It should be brief – about 20 seconds maximum. Start with your ‘emotional-based marketing message’ – in other words, what you help people achieve. For example, ‘I help people live more and earn more’. It encourages interest from others and is more stimulating than, ‘I am in real estate’.” Need help in this area? The Referral Institute’s course Certified Networker® II provides techniques to becoming more effective networkers.
3. Make the first move
Have a few practised conversation openers ready so you can avoid the dreaded awkward silence, says Lucy who remembers her first networking event: “I was nervous, but I took a deep breath and introduced myself to a group, some of whom I still do business with today! Remember everyone feels the same way, but if it really makes you feel uncomfortable try networking with a friend or colleague who is more confident about making the first move.” Another bonus in taking a friend along is that they can introduce you to people they meet and promote your business while you do the same for them.
4. Set goals
Be clear about what you’re looking to achieve, says Jonathon Davidson, chairman of the British Business Group. “It is important to have a goal when you decide to network. Whatever the purpose, the right venue is important. You should find an event that attracts the demographic you wish to sell to. Similarly, if the networking goal is to secure employment, it is a wise idea to look for industry-specific events to find the right peer group.” For business, attending just one network event will introduce you to a host of seasoned networkers who can recommend other valuable groups. Meetup (www.meetup.com) gives you the chance to arrange to meet new people in Dubai with common interests and it even offers the opportunity to set up your own group.
5. Learn to listen
“Success in networking is about helping other people achieve their goals,” explains Phil. “And because people love to talk about themselves, use a very simple tactic: listen more than you talk. You should leave a conversation by finding something you can do to help that person. This is the start of a relationship. The more you can do for them, the more they will feel compelled to help you back.”
6. Follow up
Get the most out of networking by following the advice of Claire Fenner, managing director of Heels and Deals – a networking community for women entrepreneurs: “First and early impressions are very important, so if you said you’d get in touch to arrange to meet to continue your discussions, make sure you do. There are no rules to say how quickly you should follow up, but within a few days is ideal. Block off an hour in your diary for the day after in advance for focused follow-up time.”
7. Follow your interest
Like attracts like and networking is much more enjoyable when there’s a shared interest. Najla Al Midfa, co-founder of new networking club, The Hub, says: “Join a club where you share your profile with other members. Just by being associated with the same group, you already have something in common, like a shared profession, nationality, or in our case at The Hub, a desire to change the world through ideas for good.” Social networking can open doors to new ideas and people, who can recommend and introduce. Whatever your interest, there’s a group out there. Try Gooseberry (www.gooseberrydubai.com) who organise informal social occasions for foodies or the women-only book club, Dubai Pages Turners (www.meetup.com/DubaiPageTurners). Don’t miss the chance to network with other Aquarius readers by joining our club Aquarius Connect. See pages 34-35.
8. Utilise social media
It’s crucial today that any networking strategy incorporates social media. Heels and Deals not only arranges face-to-face networking, but also has a large online community. “Figures from a recent study on social media usage show that 69 per cent of all women use social media sites compared to 60 per cent of men and since 2008, the number of women using social media has doubled*,” explains Clare. “Today it’s possible to generate leads and sales online as well as meet like-minded people. Social media should form part of everyone’s networking strategy.” Want to learn how? Online portal www.mashable.com is a great resource. Looking to incorporate social media into your business strategy? DigitALL (www.otp4digital.com) and Socialize (www.socialize.com) can help you.
9. Dress to impress
People form an opinion in the first three seconds of meeting you. “It is important to not just be well-groomed but to dress in a manner befitting the office represented,” explains Warsha Joshi, managing director of the Platinum PA Club, an organisation aimed at personal assistants. “Dressing to impress doesn’t necessarily mean expensive clothes, but by ensuring they are well-fitted, clean, and pressed, it will go a long way to making the first three-second impression, a lasting one.” For anyone looking to revamp their style, Louise Wrankmore, image consultant and personal stylist (www.cmb.co.uk) offers a variety of styling services – including colour consultations and wardrobe revamps, to ensure you look your best, whatever the occasion.
10. Join a formal networking group
Becoming a member of any one of the UAE’s many business-focused groups can open doors to new ideas, and introduce you to people who have gone through similar experiences, faced the pitfalls, and provide you with practical guidance. For entrepreneurs, Heels and Deals (www.heelsanddeals.org) is the ideal organisation. It not only holds monthly events, but also boasts an interactive online forum. Alternatively, try BNI (www.bni-me.com), who meet weekly to generate referrals for each other. New to the networking scene is The Hub (http://dubai.the-hub.net). Part of a global network of collaborative spaces, entrepreneurs and social innovators meet to realise their ideas for building a sustainable society.
*source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, August 30, 2011