Networking. You know you should do it, but you don’t. It may be because of the time commitment, being unsure as to what groups to join, or not knowing how to strategically go about it. The one thing you do know is that you don’t want to be the person at an event playing “how many cards can I collect”. You know the game:
You arrive at an event and see someone making a beeline toward you. He introduces himself as he hands you a business card and immediately asks for yours. He might make small talk for another one or two minutes before excusing himself and running off to the next person. The following week you receive a newsletter from a mysterious company.
Don’t be that person! There are things you can to do to prepare and be strategic and productive in your efforts.
Networking is a relatively low-cost way to meet others and market yourself and your business. A good network can provide :
* business connections and referrals
* prospects for your product or service
* someone to partner with for future business
* a new job opportunity
There are times you won’t know where a connection will lead, and that is okay. The thing to remember is to be open when talking with people. Even if someone doesn’t seem to be a good connection for you, remember that you don’t know who they know.
How to Network
I think of networking as a business skill, as important to me as my consulting. The key to any skill is practice and consistency. To help you get started or refine your practice, here is some networking advice that I share when I speak on the topic:
Know your intent. You need to know what you want to accomplish. This will help you create your plan of attack and focus your efforts. My networking intent is twofold: I am looking for business contacts for my services, and I’m looking for people or organizations I may be able to partner with or refer others to.
Determine how you want to introduce yourself. Whether you create an elevator pitch to grab attention or give a brief introduction about yourself and your products or services, one thing is critical – you need to be clear, concise and deliver it with confidence.
I won’t go into the mechanics of an elevator pitch; you can find plenty of great information on the internet. What I will say is that whatever introduction you use, it needs to be authentic and natural.
Plan to give before you receive. Networking is about building relationships. You do that by developing trust and credibility. Just like personal relationships, there is a give and take. If you are only in it for self-benefit, then you will find yourself in the card-collection business rather than the relationship-building business.
To network effectively you need to believe in helping others. I personally love connecting and referring people in my network to each other, and sharing my endorsements of businesses I know and use. When I meet someone new, I make sure to learn enough about them and their business to make future introductions.
Have a plan and work it. What methods will you use for your networking activities? How much time will you spend each week? There are so many avenues to choose from, you can easily spread yourself so thin that you forget about the important step of follow-up (see the next point). Or you find yourself networking during the day and doing your work at night. That is not good work-life balance.
If you are just starting to network, pick a few methods and try them out. Methods that work for a colleague might not work for you. You also may find that some methods work well for a period of time, and then you need to make some changes to find different connections.
While industry organizations are always a good place to start, think outside the norm as you create your plan. Think “Where are my potential prospects?” rather than “Where are others who do what I do?”
Follow Up. It’s true that the follow-up is the magic. When you meet someone, you should follow up within a week to set up the next touch point. In your message, I suggest you remind the person where you met and a bit about the conversation you had so they remember who you are and why you are reaching out. If you were at an event where you both talked with a large number of people, they will appreciate the reminder.
Remember, the ultimate goal of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships where you are both comfortable sharing ideas and resources. So take some time to start or reignite your networking.