(Related: 5 Business Networking ‘Musts’)
Networking is more than just showing up to an event and expecting business to come your way. It would be awesome if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. Business Networking, and establishing good connections, does require work. Lots of work. In fact, the word “work” is right in the word “network”! How about that?
Put work into your network and over time good things will happen. No, great things will happen! Provided, of course, that you attend the right events, say the right things, and meet the right people. A lot to think about I know!
Here are 8 best practices!
1. Attend the right event.
If you’re not attending the right events, almost nothing else matters. How do you know if you’re attending the right events? Funny you ask! Do you have a good connection with many of the attendees.
- Are they fun.
- Are they in a profession that can refer you business.
- Are they in a profession (or in a position) that can hire you.
- Are they in or do they serve your target market.
- Is it cost effective.
- Are there opportunities to exhibit.
- Speak at their events.
- Write for their publications.
- Earn a designation.
- Will the organization that hosts the event promote your business?
Events might be company events, professional associations, chambers, community service groups, or networking organizations. Make sure you’re attending the right events for the right reasons. Location, location, location!
2. Be clear on your message.
- What do you do.
- Who do you help.
- Why do you get hired.
- Who are great referral partners.
- Who are great prospects.
- Why do you do what you do.
- Who is your target market.
- What are your target companies or target professions.
- What story can you share to make you and your work interesting and engaging.
- How can your message be concise, clear, actionable, and fun.
Think conversation rather than monologue. Be clear on what information you’re sharing with people. Ever walk away from a conversation without any idea of what was said or what that person does for work? Don’t let that be you!
3. Get involved.
Getting value from an event is not usually a one-time deal. (Unless the event is a one-time deal.) See what you can do to get involved and contribute to the event and the organization.
Can you volunteer? Help at the registration desk? Become a member?
If you’re not sure how you can support the cause just ask! If you’re a mover and shaker as a member or attendee at an event, you’ll get a lot of visibility and others will think you must be good at what you do professionally. Hopefully you are!
4. Listen closely.
Listen. Truly listen. That means you don’t talk about you. Just listen to those you meet. Really try to understand what the other person is saying. React, reflect, and ask questions as appropriate. Networking is about learning about the people you meet and over time helping them if you can. The best way to learn is to actively listen. Just shut down the voices in your head and pay attention. Set the standard for listening and when it’s your turn to talk, they will listen.
5. Offer help.
When you listen and learn from those you meet, think about ways you might be able to help. Do you know of clubs, associations, websites, podcasts, businesses, articles, blogs, and people that can be a resource?
Be careful. Don’t pitch your services to “help” unless it’s done in a non-threatening way. Remember, you’re often meeting people for the first and second time so be careful with thinly veiled sales pitches.
6. Meet the boss.
Who is the meeting planner? Executive director? President? Chairperson? Fearless leader? Large and in charge? One of the first people to meet at an event is the one that knows everything there is to know – and everyone!
When checking in at the front desk, ask who oversees the event and for an introduction. This is a great way to “break the ice,” feel more confident, make an important connection, and get introduced to board members and other big players at the event. In fact, you’ll look like a big player yourself!
If possible, email or call the organization a few days before the event and see if you can speak to the top person. Then, when you meet at the event, it will be a second time meeting. Remember, networking is about the connection so be strategic in how you make them.
7. Be a connector.
Be the person at the event that is always looking to make introductions. Of course, get to know people and make sure you feel comfortable and it’s appropriate. Being a connector is fun and will very quickly get you connected to others too. Just make sure when you’re offering introductions both during and after an event, the connections benefit all parties. Otherwise the introductions you make may come across as self-serving.
8. Plan to follow up.
Other than lots of talking, exchanging business cards (or contact info), and refreshing your networking game face, nothing great usually happens right there at the event. Business outcomes usually take place through follow up, follow through, and staying in touch. Relationships must develop to the point where there is mutual trust and full disclosure. This can never happen without following up. Make it a point of initiating another meeting or at least a phone call with those you meet when it makes sense. How do you know if it makes sense? Just ask! “Does it make sense to exchange cards? There may be ways to refer one another business. I’ll follow up with you over the next day to set up a time to explore!”
There are a ton of other things to be mindful of when attending events. Be likeable, don’t dominate the conversation, ask questions about them, be genuinely interested, and maybe most important – be fun. Don’t take all this networking stuff so seriously. Have fun in your conversations and people will want to talk to you. Well, at least the fun people will!
See you at the next event!
— Read 7 Business Networking Reminders, on ThinkAdvisor.