At a recent event I assisted Maggie Beer feed 1,000 vulnerable Australians with a beautiful dinner. I chatted to lots of other CEOs and had so much fun meeting celebrity chefs.
I am a hard working business owner and I find it so much easier to sit at my computer and work on my business or sit and spend time with my team. But I have learnt that a network, and networking, pay off. And I do love getting out and talking to people, though I've never been into the whole business card flurry that some think comprises networking. This is how I go about making the most out of the networking events I get to attend:
- Get out of your comfort zone Being a bit ballsy is a must when it comes to attending events, sorry to break this to you! I went to a large event recently for the opening of a key new building in the city. After the Premier had addressed the audience I was the first who went up to him and introduced myself. Everyone else was hanging back and I got to have a quick word in his ear about some topical issues. I also asked for a photo with him, which was great for social media and my mum loved it too!
- Don't be afraid to ask I am usually the one who asks a question or gets debate going in Q&A sessions. I don't do this for the sake of it, but if I have a legitimate question then I'm not afraid to put my hand up. It means that not only the speaker sees who you are, but often more importantly, other delegates will see you and your business and those interested in finding out more about what you do will come to you after the session has ended.
- Know your 'why' As an engineer by trade I love a good system or plan. I always spend a little time beforehand assessing why I'm there and what I want to get out of it. Sometimes the keynote speaker and topic is the main reason I'm there, in which case I might focus on talking to them. Other times it's about getting a sense of what a particular industry or community seems to be concerned about or getting the 'word on the street', in which case I'll just keep my ear out and maybe ask some questions to get some discussion going. If there's a particular client or potential contact that I'm interested in meeting, I'll work out a way to talk to that person without being over the top about it. If they're particularly inundated at the event, I'll often touch base so they know me and then follow up for a one on one separately.
- Quality not quantity I am much more one for building one or two quality conversations and relationships rather than grabbing a bunch of business cards. To be brutally honest, I'm really bad at following up on business cards and I meet so many different people in different settings that I find it hard to remember everyone. Making time to spend a bit longer with someone you've just met usually results in someone really remembering you (and vice versa) and typically leaves you with a relationship where, should you need them for something, you would have no problems picking up the phone and asking for their advice. Plus I actually just really enjoy getting to know people.
- Everyone can help you Unless I am at an event with the specific goal of winning business, most of the time I'm not particularly focussed on networking just with prospective clients or people in my industry. There is so much to learn from everyone, especially from those outside of your normal networks. I love asking someone from a completely different industry about issues that I might be facing and getting a completely fresh idea on how to approach it.
I believe that going to the right events is key to building ANY business. Putting myself out there has been the best thing for my personal brand, for positioning myself with key business leaders and has helped build my company in numerous ways, so get out of your PJs and get your networking groove on!
Jo Schneider is a CEO, serial entrepreneur, 2014 Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year (SA) and has featured in Nine News, BRW, The SMH, Sky News and The Age. At just 22 she set up her first award-winning company, Animal Therapeutics, which is now the sole distributor of a world renowned performance product for performance animals in Australia and New Zealand markets. Her other company, DVE Business Solutions, is a consultancy advising large organisations, specifically universities, on process improvements, change management and customised systems with a people focus. The company drives positive change through a holistic approach bringing together process, people, structure and technology and they have a mission to change education from the inside out!