Picture the scenario – you turn up at a business networking event armed with your newly printed business cards and discover that the exchange of cards is not encouraged, in fact it’s positively discouraged.
What do you do? How can you make new contacts and build business relationships if you can’t hand over your business card? If this has happened to you, you may have visited one of our Hub events.
We’re not supporters of the business card exchange format at our Business Hubs, you know the deal where everyone passes around their cards, admires their design, reads what everyone does and then pockets them soon to become fodder for the recycling bin?
For the outset when I started my first Hub, I’ve tried to avoid this format. Why? Because I believe it stops genuine business relationships in their tracks. Instead of having a meaningful conversation we end up hiding behind our business cards and expect them to do the talking. The recipient reads your card and if your job title doesn’t mean anything to them – i.e. they’re not interested in what you do – the barriers go up and they’re no longer engaged.
For this reason I’ve resisted requests to provide any kind of non-communicative form of exchanging cards, whether that’s laying them out on a table so people can help themselves, or passing them around like pass the parcel. Instead I encourage our Hub members and visitors to Hub events to talk to each other first, find common ground, and then if you really want to keep in touch – swap the business cards.
As a result I believe that our business community are building much better relationships, including doing business with each other, because they’ve learning about each other first. That preconceived idea about what a “XYZ Director” does, or whether you need the services of a particular company, go out the window. Instead both parties get the opportunity to engage with each other first and discover in a more holistic way whether there is some alignment.
3 Tips For Better Networking
So if your instinctive reaction when you meet someone new at a networking event is to reach for the cards, what should you do instead? Here’s what works for me:
- Ask Them About Themselves
Many of us have been taught to prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ to use at business events. We launch into it at the drop of a hat, barely drawing breath. But how do you know if anything you say is going to strike a cord with the other person? Could you be wasting your time because what you say has no relevance to them and what they do?
I think a better approach is start off by asking them about what they do, and really listening to what they have to say. With this information you should be able to find some common ground, even if it’s not specifically work related.
- Be Yourself
Not many business cards convey the personality of their bearer. It’s generally a faceless marketing tool and if that’s the first impression someone has of you – a printed piece of card thrust into their hand – it’s not a great start in my opinion. By doing away with the business cards you get a chance to make a great impression by being YOU. That old adage that ‘people do business with people, not companies’ is very true, so be yourself – or at least the best version of you!
- Impress Them
Generally after a chat about themselves you’ll be asked ‘what do you do?’ At this point you have an opportunity to tell them in a really relevant way, because you already know about them, their needs, the challenges they have, and how you can help them – if you can. You won’t need to go into lots of detail because everything you say is going to strike a chord and interest them, they will want to know more.
At this point they may ask for your business card. But you don’t have one! Even if you do it may be a better policy to say you don’t carry them. Instead ask them for their contact details and permission to get in touch. This puts you in a great position to follow up with something meaningful after the event, with their consent.
How you handle the follow up will depend on what you do, how your conversation developed and what their needs are – I’ll be blogging about this in a future post so look out for it in a few weeks time!
We have Hubs at Farnham and Guildford if you would like to experience our no business card networking! We’ve also got plans to open new Business Hubs in the near future so if you would like to bring a Hub to your town, click here to find out more.