Top ten useful tips on networking

28 September 2011

Photo courtesy of WTM

I thought that this would be a topical subject, especially as we have one of the biggest  events of the year coming up in the form of WTM from 7-10 November.

If I could convert the number of times that colleagues have said to me “I wish I’d done more networking” into cash I would be a very rich person. For those of us that have worked in corporate life we often draw on the friendships we make in companies we work for and rely too much on those for our social life. Then the inevitable restructuring happens and you are facing redundancy or decide that it’s time to move on but don’t know who to call for advice or help.

I remember when I first left Thomas Cook I thought I had lost part of my family. My decision to leave was actually a conscious choice and led to all manner of interesting opportunities. However I can imagine how much more distressing it would have been, had it been a redundancy situation, without a good personal network.
Networking is often misunderstood and some people think it’s just about calling people when we need something but the complete opposite is true and it’s all about what you can do for others. The real benefit of networking is having a trusted circle of friends and colleagues that can rely on you to help them and not expecting something back in return. I really believe in the principle of karma which means that a good deed often leads to something positive happening to you in return, but not always from the recipient of your original good deed.

Many years ago during the dot com boom years I met a very interesting woman called Carole Stone,
Photo: Carole Stonean ex BBC producer, who had just written a book called “Networking, the art of making friends” and I invited her to come and share her pearls of wisdom with members of a network I was involved with. Carole had been running a number of  networking events at her home in Covent Garden which I was lucky enough to attend.  I also discovered she had an address book to die for with no less than 17,000 people on it. Many of the good and great came to listen to Carole and I thought I’d share some of her top tips with you. Carole is an amazing “socialite” and still runs her famous networking events, now called The Stone Club. The wonderful quality about Carole is that she is as open as ever and works hard to support young people to find the first step on their career path, by connecting them to the many experienced people in her network that can best help them. Rather than fill her flat with people every week Carole now rents premises in Central London. Carole has the knack of mixing the most amazing diverse group of people. Maybe not quite as diverse as this group of party goers we came across at a Colombian fiesta whilst on holiday last Christmas.

 
I’m aware that many of you will be busy preparing for the WTM where networking is so important so I thought I’d share some top tips that might help to get the most out of the show, drawing on some of my learning from Carole.
 
1. Advance planning is key
This means creating your target list of companies and individuals that you want to work with and doing your homework on the individuals.  One of the best tools for doing this is Linkedin. I recommend that you join Linkedin groups that may be relevant to your industry sector (you can join up to 50). When you are in the same group you can often make a direct approach to the people that you want to connect to.
 
However don’t spam people with a sales message but make your intro message very specific and do your homework on the company and explain why you want to connect. Find a common connection which will help to build rapport. Often you can build a good reputation on a Linkedin group by contributing help and advice to other members. You can use the Linkedin company profiles to determine who the key decision makers are within each of your target companies. Don’t forget to join the WTM Linkedin group to maximise your networking opportunities.
 
2. Keeping your Linkedin personal and company profile up to date
Make sure that your Linkedin profile has a photo, is up to date and explains what you can offer and what you are looking for. I recommend joining Slideshare to share some key top tips and embedding a video into your slideshare presentation so that people can opt to watch the video to get a better feel for you as a person. People buy from people and chemistry is important.
 
As an exhibitor you can create a short introductory presentation and invite people and your buyers to preview that first and then invite them to meet you on the stand. The WTM site enables you to schedule appointments. In this way you’ve got a bit of a head start over your competitors and saved your buyer valuable time at the show where they may be keen to schedule as many appointments as possible.
 
3. Tap in to the established travel agency networks
Many exhibitors use text or social media promotions to encourage travel agents to visit their stands by offering prizes and freebies. Remember that you ideally want them to learn something about your service or destination so make it informative and include some task they have to do on your website or fan page such as Facebook or Twitter to build more engagement and learning.
 
There are numerous UK communities of travel agents such as Gazeteers, TTG Digital, Travelmole, Travel Weekly or Online Travel Training. Think about something of value that you can give to them such as a small guidebook, USB stick, DVD or attractive poster for your destination that they can share with their clients but remember that many visitors do not want to take anything too bulky or heavy. I’m amazed how many exhibitors still bring very heavy guide books which often end up in the bin at the end of the show. Let’s think about how much greener we can be about our display and our freebies.
 
4. Don’t forget the power of testimonials and referrals
Testimonials and referrals can be a powerful way of building relationships with new people so make sure that your network is fully briefed on who you are trying to reach and ask them for an introduction if they have them as a contact in their Linkedin network.
Photo courtesy of WTM
 
5. First time encounters - dos and don’ts
As a host at an event it is very important to make sure that everyone is warmly greeted on arrival and introduced to others. I’ve been to many social events over the years and the thing I hate to see is someone standing on their own. Fear of these situations will deter many interesting people from going to a business event. It is also not acceptable to ask professionals for a free consultation.
 
However the key to building rapport is to first listen hard which is something I’m not always good at doing. Ask about the other person and what is of interest to them and what brought them to the event. As Carole emphasizes, focus on open ended questions such as How, Why, What, When, Where?  
 
If you are calling someone for the first time, make sure you check if it is a good time to speak, as this will build more rapport.
 
6. Follow up
When you have met someone then the key thing is to connect with them on Linkedin within 24 hours and follow up with them by email or text. Timeliness on this is key and you need to take responsibility for the follow up.
 
Sometimes I’m shy about asking for a business card but this is very important and if someone gives you one, always reciprocate.
 
7. Tips to stay in contact
This is the hardest part and takes considerable energy and commitment but can pay dividends. I have found that a monthly email newsy update is a good way to keep people up to date. However a follow up call or meeting is always the most powerful way to stay in touch as it enables you to learn much more about your colleague.  
 
8. Sharing things of interest
If I come across something of interest that I think my colleagues will value then I’ll share it on Twitter or Linkedin. I’ve been a bit out of practice but the other thing I like to do is to find a good bar in London and invite everyone to meet up for a drink every few months which people enjoy. I try to be as generous as I can about enabling my contacts to meet each other.
 
Don’t forget to go to as many WTM social events as you can as you’ll often learn as much about what’s really going on in the industry from them.
 
9. Always deliver what you promise
This is another challenge but one you have to take seriously. If you promise to do something for someone then make sure that you follow through as soon as you can and be realistic with timeframes. Carole’s top tips include:
-         Take notes on all action points
-         Don’t rely on your memory
-         Check spellings carefully for all names
-         Make a friend of all “gatekeepers” such as Personal Assistants and Secretaries.
 
10. Tips to help remember names
This is something I struggle with especially with foreign names so I now try and use word association to remember someone’s name. If their name is Suraj I will think of a soaring eagle and an image of a Raj (king) so that I will remember it much more easily. This could be because I’m a visual so for those of you who have a more auditory sense you might find a similar sound of more help eg Graham could be “grey” and “ham”.
 
There is a speed networking event at WTM on 7th November 2011 and you can find out more details on this event here.

Other UK travel networking opportunities that you might enjoy are the Travtweetups and the Travel Bloggers Unite events plus those hosted by the UK Travel Associations such as AWTE, CIMTIG,  ITT  and the Tourism Society.  Many of these travel organisations will be running WTM related events so don’t miss them. Don’t forget to register for WTM here before 31 October to enter the prize draw.
 
If you found this blog of help, please like or tweet about it. 
Have you got some good networking tips to share or any good articles or books on networking you can recommend?

 
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