Property Week How to win friends and influence people

Networking is everything for a successful career in property. Property Week's newest recruit, Nick Duxbury, shows you how to work the room

By Nick Duxbury

It's not what you know, but who you know in property circles that counts - or so the adage goes. This sentiment is not just a shallow anachronism lingering like cigar smoke from an old boys' club. In turbulent times, new contacts are a vital means of generating new business. And in 2008, merely making the yearly mecca to MIPIM will certainly not be enough to stay ahead of the game.

An estimated 70% of people find their next job through contacts. Paul Egan-Carter, business manager at headhunter Holtby Turner, receives 30% of his referrals through word-of-mouth relationships. 'Unless you put yourself in the right position, you will stay hidden,' he says. 'We reference candidates from other people without them being aware. Networking ensures that the cream always rises.'

The incentive to expand your contacts extends far beyond scrambling up the career ladder.

'I have just had two people call me with potential business whom I haven't spoken to in the last five years,' says Peter Moore, Property Week's resident career doctor, who runs MacDonald & Company. 'One I met on a ski trip, the other through a property friend nine years ago. It really works.'

This is Property Week's guide to networking.

Go surfing

You don't need to be overly confident or invited to exclusive events to develop contacts.

Ros Toynbee, director of the Career Coach, maintains: 'You can network at anytime even in a lift. Anywhere can produce an opportunity.' In this spirit, there is no need to leave the sanctuary of your desk.

Facebook is an easy place to start. There are numerous property groups that you can join, including the RICS, Property Investors Network, and Just Property Networking all of which filter lists of whom you already know and show which mutual friends you share.

Of course, there are problems mixing business with pleasure online.

'Photos of what you did in the pub last weekend will not necessarily do you any favours with clients or potential employers. If you are going to use Facebook for business networking, it's worth being wary and making your profile appropriate for any audience,' says Egan-Carter.

The numerous pitfalls of Facebook have lead to more formal online business networking sites like Linkedin.com and Xing.com growing in popularity. Also on the horizon is a new networking site designed specifically for real estate professionals called Reorb.com.

Face-to-face events

Despite the advent of online networking technology, it is still essential to leave your comfort zone.

'Nothing beats face-to-face,' maintains Moore. 'The great thing about the property industry is that it's so social - you can go to events every night if you want to.'

With a constant stream of events such as RICS Matrics nights, Property Week's 1st Friday Club, awards ceremonies and property launches, there are very few excuses for not attending a few every week.

Surveying the room

If you are prepared to make the effort, you may as well make it count. To ensure you don't squander your time speaking to people that you wish you weren't, it is important to identify what you want to achieve and who you want to meet before you arrive at events.

Ros Toynbee recommends this strategy: 'Most network events have a list of everyone who is coming and a table of badges. Once you know who you want to talk to, a good tactic is to find the organiser and ask if they can point them out, or even introduce them to you.'

Breaking the ice

The prospect of attempting to befriend a room full of strangers - each with their own concealed agenda - is not one that excites even the most confident of room workers. Fortunately, networking guru Will Kintish has the art of ice-breaking finely honed.

'The first thing you need to understand is that 99% of people are nervous when you walk into a room. The other thing to remember is that most people going into that room are also basically friendly. Everyone is looking for their moment of 'a-ha' realised opportunity when they realise mutual interests and common goals.'

Networking faux pas

Having broken the ice with a group, there are still plenty of ways you can ruin your chances of obtaining that 'a-ha' moment of business Zen. Failing to bring business cards will undermine even the most charming of introductions.

That said, according to Toynbee, distributing a walletful won't do you any favours either: 'One of the worst things that you can do is flit around pushing your business cards on people. No relationship can form in a one-way pitch: save the big sell for a follow-up meeting.'

Hold steady

Such restraint must also extend to booze even if there is a free bar. Judging the line on this one is tricky as some of the best relationships have been formed under less than sober circumstances. A bit of Dutch courage might stop you from loitering with friends, but after a short while, that well-sculpted professional veneer will almost certainly crumble.

'If you are the most drunk or most outrageous, you will be remembered as such,' warns Moore.

Canapes also bring perils. 'Have a sandwich before you go, for god's sake,' says Toynbee. 'No one wants to chat to someone with bad breath, a mouthful of goo and a greasy handshake.'

The morning after

Assuming you have made new contacts and organised a few coffees, now is the time to start nurturing them into relationships.

'Getting business cards is fantastic, but if they gather dust in your draws then they are useless,' says Peter Moore. 'You have to make brief notes with dates and times about conversations, before filing them in a system that is easily accessible.'

Contact details can change, and business cards can get lost or ruined. Sign up to an online address book such as Plaxo. By linking it to MS Outlook you can ensure that, if there is any change in contact details, both your system and theirs will be immediately updated.

'Keep in contact with people you meet so they don't forget you,' says Moore. 'The network of contacts you develop in the early days will stay with you for the rest of your professional life.'

Meet 'n' greet strategy

According to networking guru Will Kintish, the best tactic is to survey the room and assess who is easiest to approach.
'Whether there are 12 people or 12,000 people in a room, there are never more than six formats you can encounter,'
he says. These are:

1 Singles
2 Open twos: usually men standing in a V-shape, shoulder to shoulder
3 Closed twos: usually women, or a woman and a man. Women have a habit of facing people when conversing
4 Open threes: in a semi-circle with a gap to remain approachable, usually men
5 Closed threes: a tight triangle so there are backs facing every direction
6 Four or more people

'The closed groups should be avoided as their body language suggests they are having private conversations,' says Kintish. 'The singles, open twos are better, and open threes are best for the brave.'