As I write this blog post, I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop, have just traded business cards with a stranger I met literally 5 mintutes earlier. This is the modern world. Our interaction began when I opened my laptop, and he spotted my Women In Tech stickers on my keyboard – he pulled out his laptop and showed me a matching collection. He asked me if I was a designer, I said no, he asked if I was in marketing – I am. I told him I was freelance, and he told me he was looking for marketers. He found me on LinkedIn, added me, checked out my website and Instagram feed all whilst paying for his coffee, and then dashed off in a blur – leaving behind a business card and a note-to-self to email me the minute he got home.
I was sitting in the coffee shop whilst waiting for a client to meet me for a catch up. I had a new business lead before my drink had even arrived at my table. Networking in 2018 is no longer reserved for strictly organised events where buisness cards are held in a bowl and ‘speed-dating tables’ are set up around a pretentious hotel lobby. Networking is versatile and flexible, and can happen anywhere in this sea of millennials and entrepreneurs, desperate to make a connection.As my networking skills have vastly improved over the past 3 years, I wanted to share some of my favourite and most innovative ways to network in the modern age – whether it be online or in person, to help anyone out there struggling to connect.
Niche Meet Ups
Niche meet ups and events are the new way for people in communities to find each other and interact. From Java sessions to Fashion catch ups, coffee shops, bars, clubs and offices are always willing to host some truly unique networking events – which are perfect place to chat to the right people you want to meet. Bring along your business card, grab a laptop or tablet with your online portfolio loaded and ready to go (in case of spotty wifi), and just get chatting. Some great openers at these events are ‘wow the queue for the coffee is always huge at these things!’, ‘so how did you get into Java?’ or ‘do you need a hand with those drinks?’. I’m a big fan of a warm open, as going in cold and bold with ‘hey let me give you my business card’ doesn’t tend to work at the more casual events. So try and befriend a good circle of people before diving head first into the hardcore networking, and then you can play your hand by going ‘so I have to be heading off, but does anyone mind if I do the business card thing?’. Another tip: always keep your business cards in a unique box or wallet, as it makes for a great talking point and a memorable statement about you.
As evidenced in the above example, coffee shop networking is a new method of making business connections in 2018. No longer just a place where you’d sit down for a cuppa after a long day of shopping, coffee shops are the next digital hub, and the undefined coworking space of the modern business person – a perfect place to start practising your networking skills. Those with laptops are a good indicator, and those who you might have something in common with i.e. struggling for wifi, loud people, same choice of coffee, lack of plug sockets…are all good starts. Coffee shops are also great because there’s no set amount of time you have to be around the person you’re networking with (the original introverted dream!). When you feel like the conversation has reached it’s end, or you’ve decided that you’ve given them enough information for them to confidently follow up on you, you can graciously head out without it appearing intentional.
For some users, Instagram is the new LinkedIn. Free from the corporate restraints of the original networking platform, Instagram’s visual intentions are great for networking with those in the more creative industries. You can use hashtags to find those companies and individuals in your local area, use personal messages to strike up a conversation, and source out those who use their Insta captions as a unique recruitment space. The initial ‘wow great feed – I’d love some tips on how you edit/curate your profile’, before moving onto the more professional topics, is an easy way to approach this one.
As described in my ‘Selling Coffee To Coffee Shops’ post, one of the best things that came out of my public speaking debut was the amount of connections I left with that evening. Putting myself into the spotlight made sure that I was someone everyone would recognise, and the context of my talk allowed me to describe what I did, showcase my skill level, and to introduce myself to a large crowd of people in a professional setting. It also gave everybody else a really easy introduction when networking towards me ‘wow you did a really good job!’, ‘that was a great talk’, ‘I’ve got a question about your talk if that’s ok?’. It might be scary at the time, but once it’s done, you’re in a prime position to start making some valuable contacts.
Ok, bear with me on this one. It might sound odd, but some of the best networking can come from overheard conversations, awkward small talk with the person sat next to you, or a dropped belonging from a brand you recognise. The tube is one of the most unique places you can introduce yourself to someone, and something I have genuinely done on more than one occasion. The best example I have of this is when I was heading to a tech talk in Canary Wharf, and I knew the name of the event, but wasn’t quite sure of the directions. Stood next to me on the platform was a group of business people, who I overheard mentioning they were heading to the same talk. I quickly piped up saying ‘sorry, but did you say you were heading to the event too? I’m also attending but I’m new to London so I’m not quite sure where to go!’. It began as simply as that, and carried straight on to Business Card station.
Simple Tips for Networking
- Always carry your business cards on you – you never know when you’re going to bump into someone vital
- Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone – the worst they can do is ignore you.
- A smile goes a long way, and people are always more willing to chat to a friendly face than a RBF.
- How your business cards look matters a lot, so make sure the lasting impression you leave on people looks as smart as you do.
- When attempting to network, in my opinion, it’s so much easier to start solo. Heading to a networking event in a group gives you little excuse to branch out and meet other people – whereas starting out alone gives you the motivation to try and find some company.
Opportunity, much like love, can be found in the strangest of places. It just takes a little bit of imagination and courage to get yourself out there and make the connections you want to make. So keep searching for that perfect conversation starter, always have your business cards to hand, and keeping ploughing on. The more you practice, the better you’ll be!