London Technology Week is a great opportunity for networking for small start-ups and service providers. Co-founder of digital marketing agency Talented Heads and London Tech Week regular Natalie Waterworth shares her tips for making connections at specialist events.

London Technology Week is here and it’s shaping up  to be an action packed week full of useful information and networking opportunities businesses. For small businesses, this week will be a fantastic opportunity to interact and collaborate with thought leaders, innovators, and big businesses in the technology space.

Businesses across all industries are now intrinsically linked to technology, and this week of events is a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to get up to speed in the latest developments, innovations and ideas in tech. For me, events like this are the perfect place for me to network with small and large businesses alike.

I run a small business, and I meet a lot of useful contacts at such events. I’ve already started my list of people who I really want to talk to during London Tech Week. It’s going to be a busy week of networking.

When I first started my own business I absolutely despised networking, and frankly I was awful at it. I was totally awkward. I was one of those people who would rock up to events and stand in the corner pretending to be reading something enthralling on my smartphone, hoping that someone else would start a conversation with me.

That got me nowhere. I’ve come to realise how valuable and rewarding networking can be, and now I try harder to initiate meaningful conversations and overcome the desire to hide in the corner. Now I start conversations with the person in the corner.

Over the years I have made some fantastic connections through networking and this has spurred me on to keep at it. I have met new business partners, cool mentors, new clients, valuable service providers (such as designers, developers, lawyers, accountants), and even new friends. Yes seriously, I’ve even met new friends – I think we bonded over how awkward the situation was.

But not all networking events are created equal. Some events are easier (read: less awkward) than others, and I’m now quite picky about which events I attend so as to limit the pain factor. With London Technology Week you need to brush the dust off of your business cards and get out there. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  1. You don’t need to go to a ‘networking’ event to network. You can literally network anywhere and everywhere you go. I know a few super-connectors who manage to meet useful contacts at airports, on trains, and in the work cafeteria. I’m not suggesting you should go this far, but certainly at work related events you should take some time to network. At London Tech Week, make the effort to say hi to the person sitting next to you in a presentation – you never know how useful that person may be to you.
  2. Be picky about which events you attend. I find that I get most value out of events that are quite tailored or have a theme relevant to my interests. Generalist networking events can be, well, too general. It’s hard to find value in these sessions. At London Tech Week, look out for events that relate closely to your field of interest – you’re sure to meet other professionals with common interests. Search for an event that suits your needs here: http://londontechnologyweek.co.uk/events/
  3. Structured events make networking a breeze. By far the hardest networking events are those with no structure, just you and a room of strangers. I find events that start with some sort of match-making are generally easier. Some events make attendees wear colour coded t-shirts or badges based on who they are looking to meet.  It’s a lot easier to identify the right person to talk to when they’re wearing a clear indicator like this. I like the look of the Co-Founders matchup event at London Tech Week because I can review the other attendees (and what they’re going for) in advance of the event.
  4. Speed-networking events are a great way to talk to a lot of people in a short period of time. These are actually my favourite type of networking events. Think speed-dating, but with business contacts. Usually you get to speak to almost everyone in the room for about 2 minutes or less. At the end of the session you can reconnect with the people who you found most useful. Remember to take a lot of business cards.
  5. Remember that everyone else in the room is also there to network. These people want to talk to you; if they didn’t they would have stayed home. It’s ok to sidle up and introduce yourself. If you are tempted to hide in your smartphone, look for the person in the corner. It’s often easier to start a conversation with someone standing on their own, and these people are often really happy to have someone else approach them. Talking to these people can be a whole lot easier than joining a group mid-discussion and breaking up their already established conversation.
  6. Go prepared with some questions to ask. It’s often easier to ask questions than to do all of the talking yourself. Questions are also better conversation starters than mere comments. Asking questions can also be a great way to find solutions to some of your business problems, and they tend to lead to more introductions.
  7. Use the events to your advantage. Are you looking for a canny accountant or a savvy intern? Someone at the event probably knows one of these people, and this can be such a valuable take-away from a networking event. Getting value like this out of events will make you want to attend more. Networking with service providers directly is also a great way to get the advice you need. For example the Technology Accounting and Tax Drop-In Clinics are very useful for free help.

At London Technology Week there are some great opportunities to network there in a structured environment. TechMatch is a structured networking event being held throughout the week. This multi-day matchmaking event will target a variety of business professionals, ranging from Start-ups, to SMEs, to Universities, to larger corporations. This is my kind of easy networking session, so I’ll be there!

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