Why face-to-face networking is still essential

By Francesca James

There are few areas of our lives that are yet to be taken over by ever-developing forms of technology. We store data in the cloud not in huge filing cabinets, we communicate via email and instant message platforms, we can pay for goods using our phones, and so much more. Even networking has become a digital endeavour.

While digital networking has obvious benefits in terms cost and reach, it really is no substitute looking someone in the eye over a handshake. Networking is all about connecting with people, and it’s hard to form real connections through a screen or handset. The more time you can find to get out of the office and build true friendships, the farther you, and perhaps in turn your business will go.

Before we go any further, let’s banish that terrible word – ‘networking’. It strikes unnecessary fear into lots of people. What this article is about is the true virtues of connecting with people and nurturing relationships. Like you would a friendship, meeting people face to face for business should be about chemistry, alignment of views (or respect and engaging conversation with those who think differently to you) and most importantly, they should be about give, as much as take.

So with that in mind, here are a few top tips from my own experiences of meeting new people and building relationships that are enjoyable and sometimes fruitful for business and/or personal development.

Leave the hard sell at the door: 

Don’t ever go to an event with the intention of selling from the get-go. By all means tell them what your business does and why, but leave the hard sell at the door.  

Listen and ask questions: 

Be genuine and authentic to build valuable, trustworthy business relationships. Take a real interest in the people you meet. Ask them open-ended questions using ‘Who, what, where, when, why?’ – show a real interest and don’t feign it.

‘Oh, you should definitely meet!’

Build relationships that are genuine and generous. Often called ‘connectors’, people that are considered great at and valuable to networking events are the ones that don’t always leap towards personal gain but instead would never stand with two people without introducing them to each other.

A connector is always thinking about how to help those that they know, whether it be well or through a fleeting encounter. Connectors help other people meet. Although not directly setting out to do so, they’ll also likely reap the richest benefits in return through being remembered for their willingness to support others.

Through running the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards, I’ve met so many who have opened doors for me, as I have them and they have remained in my life both personally and professionally for years after.

I believe that for networking to be valuable and not tedious, it needs to be purposeful. We’ve really made strides in building an engaged community of entrepreneurs and investors across a broad spectrum of industries. We’ve been told that our events don’t feel like typical networking events and that connections made are often serendipitous and unpredictable with entrepreneurs whether that’s advice, inspiration, new contracts or investment.

Francesca James is co-founder of the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.  greatbritishentrepreneurawards.com/