Last month, we launched community chest. A forum for employers and employees alike to ask burning questions that we will answer by amalgamating opinions and experiences gathered from people who have been through similar experiences. No canned, stereotypical responses, just real world advice and guidance.

In this month’s community chest, we answer a question submitted to us by Sarah Louise, who asks:

“I’m starting a new business and people keep telling me to go networking. How important is networking when I haven’t got that much work going on at the minute to talk about?”

Networking is a hugely popular way for people to promote their business through word of mouth and gain referrals without spending a fortune on marketing.

Some people make great use of networking, hence the incredible success of BNI (Business Networking International) and BforB (Business for Breakfast). Meet ups can be weekly or monthly and, if promoted well, will feature an eclectic mix of individuals all with the same aim, growing their business. Representatives from individual industries are kept to a minimum (usually one, sometimes two depending on the size) which helps eliminate hard selling.

Networking isn’t for everyone. Some are uncomfortable in a social situation with people they aren’t familiar with, and that’s okay. There are a number of ways to promote your business and networking is just one aspect.

We’ve scoured for some top tips to getting the most out of networking.

Don’t hide in corners

If you get nervous in social situations it can be easy to hide away in a crowd, only speaking to people who approach you first. Instead, try getting to the meeting early and introducing yourself to the host; once you engage in conversation stay in the centre of the room, that way you are more likely to be introduced to people as they enter and greet the host.

If you don’t feel it, fake it

There is no discernible difference between being confident and feigning confidence. Lots of people feel nervous introducing themselves for the first time, there is no shame in it. The benefit is that every time you attend an event you will be seeing a lot of the same faces, and over time you will be less self-conscious.

Practice, practice, PRACTICE!

It’s a tale as old as time, to be good at something you need to practice. Who are you, what do you do, what type of people are you looking to meet, what sets your business apart? These are all questions that you should be looking to answer at every event. Luckily, they are all questions that only you can answer. If you can’t answer these yet, look at your business plan and remind yourself. Listen to other people when they introduce themselves, some people inject humour, others passion, but they should all have a clear idea of who they want to engage with. If you don’t you could end up wasting valuable time.

Arrange a pre-meet up

If you’re nervous about attending alone, contact the host to arrange a meeting first. It will help you to speak to someone who is clued up on the process and make you feel less anxious about being in a room full of strangers.

Build connections

Think of networking as an opportunity to grow your network, instead of a chance to sell. It’s an opportunity to sell yourself and the age-old adage ‘people like doing business with people’ is more relevant than ever at a networking event.

Believe to achieve

Before an event think about what you’d like to achieve and then set yourself a target of three ‘wins’. Those could be obtaining a business card from a contact from a chosen industry, promises of a follow-on meeting or speak to at least three different individuals you’ve not spoken to before.

Some questionable advice

We’re not too sure on the analogy but one user described networking as, like sex; the first time is scary and possibly painful but once you’ve done it you enjoy it and want to do it more often.

This is just a few to get the ball rolling but the key take-homes before attending any networking event, are:

•    Be confident

•    Practice your introduction

•    Build contacts

•    Grow your business

If you have a question you’d like answered by the business community, or you have advice and guidance you think will be relevant on one of our current topics email or visit our FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter pages and use hashtag #OpsiumCommunityChest