Sue Ellis  is the managing director of SED Ltd, a company that specialises in recruitment for the travel, leisure and tourism sector. Ellis is a dedicated networker who set up her own network for women. She believes that networking is an essential activity for most service sector firms “I started SED  about four years ago, but I have been in the recruitment industry for about 14 years. To begin with, networking wasn’t something I consciously set out to do, but I quickly saw the benefits.

Events and conferences

Now I actively identify which events and conferences I want to go to. Because I have been networking for so long, I would say about 25 per cent of the networking I do is to meet new people and the rest is with established contacts. I usually attend about two events each week, but I don’t think it’s possible to say how much time should be spent networking. It depends on what seems right for the individual. For me, the most frequent benefit of networking is that people often remember my company when they are looking for candidates or searching for a job themselves. I also recently introduced two of our clients, which led to them doing business. Introducing your own contacts is an important part of networking because people always remember when you have helped them out.

Identifying joint business opportunities

However, it isn’t all about the favours you exchange, it is more about identifying joint business opportunities. When you go to a networking event I think it is vital to be receptive to other people and be aware of their body language. For example, if you see someone stood awkwardly on the periphery of the group you are talking to, ask them to join you. If someone is looking over your shoulder and doesn’t appear interested in the conversation, politely excuse yourself and say that you realise they probably want to continue mingling. Even though I have plenty of experience, I still don’t particularly like walking into a room full of strangers.

In the same boat

I think it helps to remember that everyone is in the same boat. It is also a good idea to get hold of the delegate list in advance and contact people beforehand whom you would like to meet. If people aren’t wearing name badges, you can always get one of the event organisers to point them out. I have been to events where some people don’t seem at all interested, but it’s quite rare. Most people do want to meet contacts and build relationships, but if you expect immediate results you can be disappointed. It usually takes about a month before people feel comfortable with you and you have gained their trust.

Personally, I have been very lucky because my previous employers have all been good networkers and I learned a lot through watching them. I now have five employees — ranging from account managers to administrators — and we all go out and meet contacts face-to-face. In my opinion, networking is an essential business tool.

Everyone can and should do it, particularly in the service sector.”