What is this scary thing we call networking? For one, it’s more than collecting handfuls of business cards and shaking hands with people. The key to networking is something called relationship building, which is why networking itself can seem frightening to some. It’s much easier to impersonally collect business cards, isn’t it? However, it’s nowhere near as meaningful and valuable. The definition of business networking itself is twofold, firstly, “leveraging your business and personal connections to bring you a regular supply of new business” (thanks, Entrepreneur), and secondly, to do so in a mutually beneficial manner (remember, relationship building). Don’t worry, today we’re here to help you figure out how to network intentionally and successfully.
In this world of 7.4 billion people, there is an overabundance of groups offering professionals of all kinds the opportunity to network and make important connections, whether it’s in person or online. There are even groups that cater to those extreme niche markets. Regardless of what your business is about, we guarantee that there is a networking event or business group for you.
Once you’ve determined what group you want to network with, it’s time to make a plan. Determine what you want to get out of networking- what is your goal? Do you want to gain a contact in the technology industry? Do you want to find someone who can fill an open position at your company? Then, determine what it is you can offer to people. It’s important to remember that networking is a mutually beneficial process. No one is going to want to talk to you if you’re only networking for yourself.
While you’re at your chosen networking event, it’s important to remember a few things:
- Be authentic and genuine. Nobody wants to talk to a self-serving robot.
- Ask open ended questions. This will open up the conversation to more topics (and if you’re nervous, it allows you to gather your bearings while the other person talks).
- Listen. This way, you can make more valuable connections with the person, and it’s just the polite thing to do.
- Repeat back. If you have trouble remembering names or facts, repeat them back to the person you’re conversing with. Example: “So, Susan, you said a moment ago that you used to work at Google. How did you like working in the technology field?”
- Make suggestions. Never be afraid to offer ideas and names of other people that may be useful. This can allow you to become known as a resource to others and it makes you memorable.
- Practice your elevator speech. Be able to clearly articulate what you do, who you do it for, why you do it and what makes it special.
- Know what you want. Be able to clearly state what you are looking for and how others can help you (remember your predetermined goal).
If you’re shy, introverted, or simply new at networking, you can ask for introductions or talk about your passions, both of which can make you more comfortable. For more of these, check out CIO.
Still shaky on what to do? Forbes has eight great tips just for you.
Follow up, follow up, FOLLOW UP. This is the most important step you can take in the aftermath of networking events. Doing this quickly will increase the chance that the person will remember who you are and what you talked about. Whether you shoot them a quick email that evening thanking them for their time, or give them a phone call the next day, it is extremely important to do this, even for those individuals that you weren’t seeking out at the start of the event. It never hurts to have too many people in your contacts.
For the people that you were seeking out, ask if you could get together over coffee and share ideas. Remember to respect and honor their time, and your referrals will continue to grow.
Interested at trying your hand at networking events? Find your local Chamber of Commerce and check out their upcoming events. Or, if you’re in the southwest Florida area, we encourage you to come to CONRIC’s open house, taking place Thursday, June 30 from 4 – 6 p.m. at our office in Fort Myers.