There are those that are natural born networkers and there are those that are not. I fall squarely into the “are not” camp.
The goal of business networking is to meet, and connect with people so that you can find clients, partners, employees, referrals to people who provide services you need, or referrals to people who need the service you provide. Networking can even simply be about meeting people in the same boat as you to become part of your support system.
Networking is vital to growing any business, including mine.
Since it’s so important, I’ve been working on it. I’ve identified four things that need to take place any time you network. Here they are, along with some strategies of how to do it.
1. Get yourself into the right mindset.
Whether or not you like networking, it is vital that you go with the right attitude and with a specific goal in mind. I always put a smile on my face before I walk into the room and keep it there regardless of how I feel inside. Even if I’m feeling uncomfortable I look confident and, simply by smiling, my brain believes I am confident.
In terms of goals, know what you are looking for. Why did you decide to go to a networking event? What about this event drew you? Is there a specific person you want to meet? Is there a specific need you are looking to fill? Can you decide to engage in conversation with a specific number of people?
2. Find someone to talk with.
This is where it gets real. If you don’t know anyone in the room, smile, take a breath and find someone standing alone and walk up to them. They will be happy to be rescued. If nobody is standing alone, approach a group with an odd number of people, it will be easier for you to join a conversation.
If you do know someone in the room, and they are with a group of people, you can join them and let them introduce you to the people that they are speaking with.
3. Strike up a conversation or, “What do I say after hello?”.
Ask questions about them – and resist sharing about yourself. Some questions I ask are: Why are you at the event? Have you attended this event before? What do you hope to get from being here? What do you like most about what you do? What is your favorite type of client? And, when the conversation naturally turns to you, share a short example about what you do, using simple, everyday language.
4. Follow up with them to build a relationship.
I have seen too many people get themselves to networking events, leave with a stack of business cards, and then leave those cards sitting in a pile on their desks. Let’s be honest for a moment: If you’re going to get yourself out and network, you must follow up or you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
I like to set appointments to follow up when I’m actually speaking with that person. I’ll say something along the lines of, “I would love to learn more about you but clearly this is not the time or place, can we set up a time to talk in the next few days?” Then, pull your calendar out and set the appointment.
If you can’t actually set up that appointment on the spot, at least let them know what to expect from you next. “It was great meeting you today. I’ll send you a copy of the article we talked about when I get back to my office, and give you a call in a couple of days to see what you thought.”
Remember, even if someone doesn’t get back to you after you’ve called them, it does not mean that they aren’t interested in speaking with you or getting to know you further, it simply means that they didn’t get back to you. Try again and then keep trying.
I really think networking gets a bad rap. It all boils down to creating relationships that support everyone in the relationship. Think of it as making new friends. I’m sure you help your friends when they need it and they help you when you need it. That’s all business networking is.