Successful business networking is an infamously delicate dance, one which seemingly requires a flair for schmoozing and a bottomless appetite for meeting new people. But, what about the introverted entrepreneur? What if you find socialising with strangers draining? We spoke to Mashudu Modau, Yoco’s enigmatic wunderkind and in-house networking guru, about tips for the more diffident self-starter.
Business networking is the most cost-effective marketing strategy out there. It’s simple: people choose to do business with people they know and like. By forcing yourself to meet other people with similar aspirations, you’re also able to feed off their entrepreneurial energy and excitement – as well as providing the perfect platform to bounce ideas off one another and share insights. What’s more, these relationships often open doors and create opportunities, beyond direct referrals or sales. Successful business networking keeps you plugged into the pulse of your industry, keeping you at the forefront of new trends and developments.
But from now on, we’re not going to even think about what you get out of it – Mash says your mindset must be about what you can contribute instead, “The art is in making your network come to you, and that comes with giving freely and being a kind, genuine person.”
Give, share and nurture
Always go into an event knowing what you are bringing to the table: how can I add value for the people attending? This means sharing your knowledge and experience freely, and connecting other people in ways that benefit them, wherever you can. Invest in building a reputation as a generous person who supports the greater network actively, and you will attract associates instead of having to find them.
Online vs Offline
With over 19 000 followers on social media, Mash has never had to look for connections: “I make noise about who I am and how much I like to serve. People can see that I’m genuine, and the right people find me.”
Mash credits most of his networking success to his activity on Twitter, but research has shown that face-to-face contact remains essential. Mash says, “Online can be used very effectively for getting ice breaking out the way, and laying the groundwork for more meaningful interactions in person. For online business networking I like LinkedIn best, because people will talk about their interests, what they do, and why they do it, in their bios – so it’s much easier to target people who are aligned with your values.”
Make your presence felt online by talking about your business, promoting your work on appropriate channels, and keeping in touch with people who show interest.
“Unfortunately entrepreneurship requires us to develop the ability to network – start with small interactions.” Mash says, “By keeping things virtual at the beginning, communication is less awkward and puts less pressure on you and the recipient. Send an email to people who you admire, and ask to take them out for coffee and conversation. Keep it light.”
Be smart about which events you choose to attend. Mash recommends following hashtags that you care about, or are relevant to your work, “Then follow the people who have interesting things to say around those hashtags, and reach out to them. I still believe that virtual networking is more targeted, efficient and direct – you could attend an event and not connect with the person you went for, because they were across the room. But, you can also research who is attending an interesting event, and then contact the top people on the list, without having to actually go.”
“I find big groups overwhelming, so I started with smaller events. Go with a charming friend or team-mate if you struggle to make conversation.” Mash’s favorite intimate networking spots are Meets by Yoco, The Hookup Dinner and Heavy Chef. He says, “You’ll get a totally different crowd at each of these, so it’s important to know which event is best matched to your objectives. Look at how the event positions itself to attract its target group. The smaller the event, the better the opportunity for genuine connection.”
Know what you hope to achieve going in, and practice your introduction and entry into conversations if you’re particularly nervous. If you’re worried you won’t get the guts to approach anyone, sign up to help by handing out name tags or greeting people at the door. Have enough business cards with you, but don’t hand them out unless asked. If you know who’s attending an upcoming event, research some of the key participants, prepare some questions, and know enough about their business to meaningfully connect.
Make a lasting first impression
Starting a conversation can be challenging, but if you look approachable, you could attract conversation without having to do the work. Try starting with an easy target: someone else who looks a little awkward or is also alone. Why not connect about how difficult shy networking is? Show genuine interest and find common ground on non-business topics.
“When I attend an event and someone tells me specifics about their job, or what they charge, I know immediately that we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.” Mash says, “It needs to start from a place of personal relatability – what excites you about what you’re working on? Go full volume on your personality and your passion.”
Do it like they do it in Japan
“Japanese business requires three meetings where you get to know each other before you can even mention business, or work of any kind.” Mash says, “I think Africans adopt that very well, maybe we even have our own unofficial version: I don’t want to talk to you about work the first time we meet – I want to know who you are, and who I’m dealing with, before I get into what money or services we can exchange”
In Japanese business networking, silence is linked to a sense of credibility, wisdom and self control. Hard sell is seen as tacky, confrontational and disrespectful – you need to earn the right to sell.
Avoiding Faux Pas
Make notes on the back of business cards or digitally: something about the person that stood out, or an interesting topic you clicked on – this will help you to remember them, reconnect, and pick up where you left off. Follow up in meaningful ways, make good on promises, and keep fertilizing connections by adding value. That way, you’ll get the most out of all the time and energy it took to meet them in the first place.
Once you’ve established sincere relationships, and proven your loyalty and perseverance, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. But, don’t be scared of rejection either – it’s just part of the process. Mash says, “You will have ups and downs, it takes time and patience, but when you see the value of your connections impacting your business, then you know your network has started working for you. That’s ultimately the goal.”