Whether you like it or not, networking is vital to being in the business world. It can be the most effective and least expensive way to promote yourself and grow your business. This is especially true if you mostly conduct business in your local area.
Networking is more than a substantial connection list on LinkedIn or just passing out business cards at a conference or convention. It is making honest connections with others in the same industry and knowing where to turn to learn more and get others’ perspectives on industry trends. You can find leads for hiring and growing your team or find the best fit for you if the time comes to change jobs.
A recent study stated that 85% of people prefer a face-to-face meeting. They feel it is the best way to grow and build more meaningful business relationships.
Usually, when someone claims to dislike networking or thinks it is an ineffective way to spend their time, it’s because they are doing it wrong. To be fair, there are countless wrong ways to network. Here are five networking tips we think will help you avoid mistakes and make some honest connections with others.
Choose the right venues.
Not all groups and conferences are created equal. Finding the “right” place for you will take some research and some trial and error. Start with your local chamber of commerce, especially if you do most of your business locally. They are an excellent choice to get to know local business owners. Sometimes the best networking is right in your backyard! Next are research conferences and trade shows. They are an excellent place to network. It may have a higher cost related to going, but if you find the right contact, it will pay off in the long run. Be sure and do your homework to see their cost, attendance numbers, and what classes they offer. You can even ask around with those you know in your industry which trade shows they have attended. Lastly, do some volunteer work at a community center. When we are serving others, doors always seem to miraculously open. Obviously, these are not the only place to network, so be creative! There are countless places to meet others and expand your circle of influence.
The Boy Scouts’ motto applies to all aspects of life. In the world of networking, there is a myriad of ways to “BE PREPARED.”
Bring business cards – Bring lots of them. Business cards are still the most common and best way to give others your contact information. Make sure the information is up to date and your message is clear, so next week, when your new contacts are looking back through, they remember you and your business. The minimal cost associated with ordering them will be far outweighed by the relationships that start with a simple card. Take it a step further and be prepared for when a new contact gives you their business card. Some apps can take a picture of a business card and turn it into a contact on your phone. Super cool, right?
Dress appropriately and professionally – This should go without saying but wearing shorts and a tee-shirt to a business-casual event will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons. You don’t need to max out your credit card with expensive clothes, but it is essential to look appropriate and dress the part. Iron your shirt, clean your shoes, and make your mom proud of how you present yourself. And a quick side note for hygiene. No one (and I mean no one) wants to talk to the guy with terrible breath and body odor. Be self-aware and wear deodorant.
Have a small “pitch” about yourself. By small, I mean minuscule. Take fifteen seconds max to introduce yourself and what you do. A short pitch can be especially helpful if talking about yourself is out of your comfort zone. Don’t sound like a recording; speak naturally. Pick the few things you are proud of and want to highlight about yourself and your business. This pitch isn’t your resume, so maybe talk about your family, explain what your company does (especially crucial if it isn’t obvious) and what you want to accomplish. Easy Peasy.
Talk, Listen, and Mingle.
When it comes to networking, follow the 80/20 rule. Spend approximately 80% of your time listening and 20% talking. No one wants to hang out with the guy who always talks about themselves. Be sure and ask questions about others and then truly listen to their answers.
Sit with people you don’t already know. Humans are creatures of habit; we tend to fall back into what is comfortable. Talking with people you already know limits what you can learn and how much you can grow. Speaking with new people with different perspectives and points of view will expand your knowledge and your network.
Find the person standing alone. Networking’s purpose is to meet others! A person alone is an excellent opportunity to approach them with a simple “May I join you?” Also, networking places some people extremely out of their comfort zones. Be the person who makes it a little easier for them,
Along with not speaking only to people you already know, don’t spend too much time with the same person. Ask for their contact information, express how much you enjoyed speaking with them, and then excuse yourself. Again, networking is for meeting lots of people, not just one or two.
Networking is not making a sale. Say that one again; Networking is not making a sale. It is cultivating a longer-term relationship that is mutually beneficial. You get to know them, and they get to know you.
Developing a relationship takes time. Building trust takes time. If you are expecting a sale or obtaining a new client after just one meeting, you are taking the wrong approach and will find your time, money, and efforts wasted. So instead of heading right into your best sales speech, slow down, listen and cultivate the relationship. Remember the 80/20 rule. Focus on what you can do for others instead of what others can do for you. You have to give in any relationship to get anything out of it.
This step is vital. Without any follow-up, networking is a waste of time and money. If you make a good connection with someone, be sure to call them, send an email, or use Linkedin to send a message to them within a couple of days. Or take it a step further with a handwritten note and a sample of your product. Mention how much you enjoyed meeting them and hearing what they had to say, and if you can remember something specific you talked with them about, mention it. Remember, this isn’t a sales pitch; this is making a long-term connection that is mutually beneficial.
Like most things in life, you get back what you put in. Networking is no different. Take the time to follow these tips, and you will find yourself growing your network and finding ways to improve yourself and help others along the way.