Networking is a vital business skill, and it’s not just for jobseekers. Entrepreneurs and managers, especially in small- to mid-sized companies, rely on strong networks to create new business opportunities, improve their skills and keep up with the latest developments.There’s no reason your networking activities should stop when you leave town for a business trip. In fact, travel opens up many unique possibilities for making great connections to help you move your career and business ahead. Here are five insider tips for turning your next business trip into a networking hit.
1. Plan for success
For stress-free networking on the move, a little preparation pays off. It starts with choosing the right hotel. If you’re attending a popular conference or event, book as close to the venue as possible. Pick a hotel with good WiFi, a comfortable restaurant or plenty of nice meet-up places nearby. That makes it easier to invite others to join for dinner or drinks after the day’s events. Also, if you have a specific person in sight, try researching your LinkedIn network for shared contacts who can introduce you. The more focussed you can be, the better your chances of success.
2. Put the word out
If you’re visiting a city where you already have contacts, let them know well in advance that you’re coming. Networking isn’t just about meeting new people, but also about strengthening relationships you’ve already established. Set time apart to meet with your existing contacts (and tell them to feel free to invite a friend). Even if you don’t know anyone, it’s still a good idea to announce your trip on social media. Someone in your network may have tips for you, or you may find out that someone from your alumni network has relocated to the city you’re about to visit.
3. Break the ice
Travel is the perfect icebreaker. Starting a conversation with other travellers is as easy as asking ‘Are you enjoying the city so far?’ Leading with a question also lets you show good listening skills. Being an active listener is a sure way to make a strong impression, because people love to feel appreciated. Chances are, you’ll have at least a few things in common. Maybe you’ve visited some of the same places in the past. These are fun topics that lead to a natural, pleasant conversation.
4. Get out of your room
Your hotel room is a great place for recharging, but it’s not so great for networking. Head downstairs at mealtimes or for evening drinks. If you’re attending a nearby conference or event, chances are you’ll bump into other attendees. With all the impressions of visiting a new city, people will have plenty to talk about, so they’re almost guaranteed to be up for a conversation. Another great, low-pressure networking opportunity is to arrive early for events or conference workshops. If you beat the crowd, you’ve got a great chance to introduce yourself to other attendees, and you can continue your conversation over coffee during the break.
5. Go high-tech
A nice business card is still a smart way to swap contact info, but you might go high-tech for some prime networking opportunities. Try looking for networking events through your preferred social media channels, or check for events on Meetup.com. These are great ways to meet interesting people in a relaxed setting. Plus, at organized meet-ups, the ice is already broken, so you can get straight to the conversation.
Successful networking, whether at home or on the road, is about being natural and never pushy. Many people feel uncomfortable with networking because they associate it with self-promotion or salesmanship. Think of it as an opportunity to learn from others and make a strong impression. Be positive, smile, and, above all, listen. Just remember to follow up with a LinkedIn invite or personalised e-mail after you get home.