Business Networking Tips
What does networking mean to you?
To some, it’s a great way to meet a diverse group of people with similar interests. Others see it as an obligation. Some people view networking as an opportunity to engage with people they’ve never met. To others, that’s terrifying. Many people just don’t know where to begin.
Why do we network?
Reasons to attend a networking event:
- To learn something
- To make connections
- To have a good time
- To be seen
- To meet 3 new people who you can follow up with at a later time
Reasons NOT to attend a networking event:
- To make sales
- Free food
- It’s too expensive
- Wrong group of people
Why are you attending this particular event?
Before you decide to attend a networking event, consider your goals. There are times when it’s fun to see familiar faces and hang out with a community of like-minded acquaintances. I get that. I’m all for fun (until someone loses an eye!). Just make sure it’s in line with your expectations.
- Have you ever bought anything at a networking event?
- Did you ever close a big deal at a networking event?
- Have you ever wondered if being at this event is the best use of your time right now?
Most people arrive at an event seeking the same thing, they just go about finding it in different ways. Attendees of networking events are all listening to the same station: WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?
One of the best ways to succeed at networking is to set aside your own needs. Instead, make it about the people you meet. Think about it: is your goal to give out as many business cards as quickly as possible, or is it to collect cards from other attendees? The best networkers act as if they are the host. They ask others what types of companies they would like to meet and who their target audience is.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
When you enter a room full of people, find someone to talk to and ask questions. Make it about them, not you. Make it easy for your new acquaintance to tell her story. The journalistic Five W’s – who, what, where, when and why – usually cover the territory.
Be careful not to gaze around the room while she’s talking, or interrupt while she’s telling a story. Listening is an important skill that comes naturally for some, but for many, it requires concentration and a constant reminder to nurture it. A common habit is to plan in your head what you’ll say next. Stop doing that! Pay attention to what is being said. Relax, be in the moment and enjoy listening to the group or individual. Encourage the speaker and make the conversation about them.
Eventually, the person will ask about you. Be ready with your 30-second pitch highlighting how you help others. Your goal is to engage with new acquaintances, see if you have some common interests that you can pursue over coffee or lunch at some point in the future, and move on!
Think about networking this way. What if your clients had access to all the talent in the room? That’s a lot of added value you can bring to your clients.
Network to Build Trust
However, it’s rare that a person you just met willingly hands you a contact or name of their best client who might have a need that you can fill. After all, they just met you. A recommendation may only come after you obtain a certain level of trust and authority. If you can cause that to occur at your first networking interaction, more power to you.
In my experience, each encounter allows you to get to know not just more about someone’s business, but about them as individuals. If it’s true that you’re known by the company you keep, you’ll want to only recommend the best people to your existing networks.
Networking to Infinity and Beyond
Remember, it’s is not always about the people in the room – it’s who they know – their second level connections (just like LinkedIn). Don’t expect them to recognize who that might be right now. Set aside a time and place away from the event to learn more and investigate such opportunities.
Some people give up on networking before they start. They tell themselves they’re too shy, or they will never have the skills to make a good impression.
Knowing just one person in the crowd helps to shake off nervousness. If you find yourself anxious walking into a room full of strangers hoping to recognize a familiar face, understand that’s a natural fear — a way to address the nerves that most of us feel when we approach a new situation, but it may not be the best step towards developing new relationships. Think in advance what you will say, practice asking thoughtful questions.
- How do you do that?
- Who do you do that for?
- What kind of results do you get?
- How long have you been doing that?
Rehearse in the car, in front of a mirror, in your mind until it sounds natural.
Here are some skills that can help you to feel more comfortable.
The Universal Language of Networking
Smile. Smiling is an international language. Smiles are inviting and can disguise nervousness.
If you’re uncomfortable, position yourself near the food or beverage station. It’s a good place to begin an indirect conversation. Make eye contact (and smile). Other people who want to make that first contact will start talking with you. Don’t engage your nervousness by eating unless you want to be remembered as the person who talked with a mouth full of food. Unless you are the host, don’t lurk by the entrance or pounce on people as they arrive.
Prior to your arrival, review a list of attendees. Upon your arrival, if there is a table of name badges, pause and visually scan the names. If none is available, ask for one at registration. This is not so you can blindly solicit after the meeting. Is there someone you know or recognize? Is there someone you’d really like to meet? Make a game plan, or make a game of it, and see if you can seek out that individual. Ask the host to introduce you to them during the event.
Try to come away from every event with at least three new contacts. It’s fine to renew old acquaintances and catch up with friends. But make sure you meet, talk and exchange business cards with someone you didn’t know before. If you find yourself stuck with an endless talker, try introducing that person to someone else.
As you leave the event, having successfully met several people you might help, and who you’d like to learn more about, initiate your follow up plan. An easy and beneficial way to maintain contact is through LinkedIn. Don’t send the perfunctory prewritten invitation. To be truly memorable, customize each one. Mention the event where you met and something they talked about. Suggest follow up procedures, preferred methods of communication and offer some dates and times for a meeting.
Success in business is not just about offering a great product or exceptional service. You have to tell people what you do. Word-of-mouth and face-to-face doesn’t require advertising or marketing dollars, but it does require your time and preparation. By doing so, you will develop genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with the right people.
Networking can be an efficient way to expand your connections and acquaintances, or it can be a burdensome expense for memberships and events you get nothing out of. It depends on the events you choose and the approach you bring to it. If you show up to hand out cards and make sales, there’s a good chance you’ll be frustrated and walk away empty-handed. When you network with an open mind to learn as much as you can about those in attendance, you’ll likely be rewarded with new contacts and endless opportunities.
The Networking Decoder
When they say: They really mean:
What do you do? What can you do for me?
Oh, how interesting. I don’t understand a word you just said.
What does your company do? What do you do for your clients?
How’s business? Are you busy doing what you do?
Which networking events are most beneficial for you? Why? What will you do differently at the next networking event you attend? Let us know in the Comments section below. A real person reads and responds to all comments.
I’ll be hosting a couple of networking events next month. Come and join us!
At Crest, we help companies
- Create content that separates them from their competition
- Become subject matter experts in their field
- Measure the effectiveness of their marketing $$
- Generate a consistent pipeline of high-quality leads for less
- Turn clients into evangelists