Raise your hand if you hate networking!
Obviously I can’t see your hands, but I imagine there’s quite a few up in the air. Everybody hates networking, right?
I used to hate networking. I thought of it as a way to sell my services to people I didn’t know, with the embarrassment of having to walk up to them, present myself, duly recite my pitch and hope they would drop me an email with a translation or interpreting project.
Then, a year ago, I went to a networking workshop at London South Bank University, and it changed my world. The speaker said something that turned my idea of networking upside down. He said that the goal of networking is not selling your services, but building relationships.
Since then, I’ve been networking on a regular basis. And I LOVE IT. I’ve been attending events, workshops, conferences, lunches and drinks just for the sake of meeting people and building relationships. And it’s paying off: I found new clients, new collaborators, and new friends.
Here are my top tips to improve your networking skills and learn to enjoy it.
Analyse the room
Have a look at the room and the people around you. Find the person who is awkwardly standing in a corner, looking at their feet with a drink in their hand. They’re probably too shy to initiate a conversation, and they will be oh-so-grateful that you took the first step. If every participant is engaged in a conversation, try to join a group conversation. A group with an odd number of participants will be better than a group with an even number. Exchanges tend to be between two people at a time; in a group with an odd number of participants you’ll have a better chance to join the conversation without disrupting the group dynamics. Remember to read body language as well: a group forming a circle probably doesn’t want anyone coming in. A group with an open shape is communicating that they’re open to new participants joining.
Get to know your interlocutor
Networking shouldn’t be about selling your services to the person in front of you. At least, not at first. Start by building a relationship with your interlocutor: take an interest in who they are, what they do, what they love and what they need. Make the conversation revolve around them: they will feel valued, and they will instantly have a more positive attitude towards you. They will also be more likely to take an interest in you afterwards, ask about you and your business or job. Bonus tip: if one of their needs happens to be related to what you do, talk about what you do in terms of how you can meet their need.
Talk about things you are passionate about
Again, ditch that sales pitch (nice rhyme, huh?). The best way to be remembered and build a good relationship is to be someone people like to spend time with. Instead of being all work and no play, talk about a topic that you’re passionate about and that your interlocutor might enjoy. If you get to know the person in front of you first, this will be a piece of cake. I, for example, love food. Italian food, in particular. It’s the thing I miss the most of my home country (and the nice weather, but hey, that’s for boring conversations). And Italian food is something most people mention when I tell them I’m Italian. This gives me a great talking point: everyone knows something about food and pretty much every person with a brain enjoys it. I usually tell some funny or memorable stories related to food, and that makes me easier to remember. Plus, it gives me something to mention in my follow up email, which brings me to the next point.
Always follow up
This is absolutely essential. Only 2% of sales happen when you meet a potential client for the first time. Which means that if you meet someone, give them your business card and then wait for them to email you with a translation project, you have a 98% chance to never hear from them again. Now, as said above, networking is not about sales, it’s about relationships. But relationships (and trust) are built over time. Collect business cards or contact details from the people you meet when networking, and drop them a line the next day to follow up. It can be something as simple as “It was really nice to meet you yesterday” or “It was great to see there’s someone else who loves *insert delicious food here* as much as I do”, but it will let the person know that you listened to them, that your interest was genuine, and that you valued what they said. Make them feel special, that’s the trick.
Write on business cards
Ok, I have a confession to make: I’m terrible with names. I’m pretty good with faces, but names are my worst enemy. That’s why I always write on business cards. The morning after a networking event (or the same day if I’m being very diligent) I write down where I met that person and when, and I add a little detail that will make me associate the name with the person. This can be something like ‘loves *insert food from previous paragraph*’ or ‘grew up in Paris’: something that really sparked my interest. This makes it much much easier for me to follow up and make sure I’m addressing the right person with the right words.
Network with your peers
Meeting people in your industry is a great way to keep up to date with the newest trends and discuss common issues. It’s also a great way to find collaborators, such as translators who work in your opposite pair or with completely different languages. This way you’ll be able to refer your clients to someone you know (and trust) if they ask for a service you can’t provide. The client will be happy and will keep coming to you for their translation or interpreting project. The other translator will be happy because they got a new project, and they will be willing to return the favour when they have a chance. You will be happy because you kept your client happy and you might get some projects from your colleague in the future. It’s a win-win-win situation. To meet more translators and interpreters, conferences and language events are a great place to start.
Network with other freelancers
Translators are not the only freelancers facing daunting work-related issues on a daily basis. The struggle is real for all freelancers. From graphic designers to marketing consultants, we can all benefit from a cross-industry exchange of information, advice and knowledge. Finding some common ground with freelancers from other industries is easier than you think. Gaining insights from different perspectives can help you find new and unexpected answers and solutions. Plus, you could find creative ideas for new, shared projects, or exchange skills with other professionals. Or, again, have someone to refer to your clients when they ask for a service you don’t provide.
Network with people in your target market
Ok, this might sound more sales-y than the other types of networking, but there are major benefits to networking with your target clients. First, you’ll have a chance to learn what they really need and fine-tune your marketing and communication efforts accordingly. Second, you’ll be able to learn more about that particular industry. You’ll become more knowledgeable and your services will have more value. Third, if you played your cards right, they’ll remember you when they need a translator or an interpreter.
Seize every opportunity
There are tons of opportunities to network pretty much everywhere.
➥ Attending workshops and seminars on a topic of your interest is a great way to meet like-minded people. Have a look at what your local university is doing, or search on Eventbrite.
➥ Have a look at what your local library, business hub or cultural centre have to offer.
➥ Search for a MeetUp in your area.
➥ Join Flylancer, a community of location-independent freelancers with hubs all around the world. I started going to their events in December and they’re absolutely great! There’s usually a group discussion on a topic of common interest, and a fun game to make networking easier. Plus, there’s free beer 🙂