7 Steps to Successful Networking
Consider these tips to help you make the most of your next big business event.
There’s more than a kernel of truth to the business adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Networking is the key to building relationships, but it’s a rare person who can walk into a big group and feel comfortable striking up a conversation with a complete stranger.
But not to worry — networking is a learned skill. Here are some tips that will help you prepare to make the most of your next big business event.
Internet research will give you some background about the guest speaker or the group’s organizers or leaders. Check out their profiles on LinkedIn. Now you will have conversation starters to break the ice when you meet these people in person.
Practice delivering an “elevator pitch” where you briefly introduce yourself, your organization, and the benefits you or your business provide in someone’s life or in the community.
Avoid becoming tongue-tied after the initial introductions are over by thinking of questions to ask in advance. Here are some examples:
- What excites you most about your position, your business, or this industry?
- What books or people have influenced or inspired you?
- What are you passionate about outside of work? Hobbies? Interests?
Dress for Success
Business or business casual attire is the norm. A professional look, even if this is not your everyday clothing style, will help others to assume that you will act in a professional manner. This increases their interest in doing business with you or getting to know you at the very least.
Remember Your Business Cards
Business cards with your name, position title, company name, phone number, email address, website address, and physical location address are a must. Bring a pen to jot down your own notes on the back of the business cards you solicit from others. Write the date and event on the backside to remember where you were introduced.
Don’t park yourself in a corner! Move around the room, smiling at people whether you know them or not. Go up to someone who is standing alone and strike up a conversation. This may be uncomfortable for you at first, but remember that many people are also feeling awkward, even if they don’t show their emotions.
If you recognize someone you know who is talking in a group, greet your known contact with “It’s nice to see you.” If he or she does not introduce you right away, then introduce yourself.
Ditch the Sales Pitch
Pushy and aggressively pitching your product or service is not the way to go. You are not here to make sales! You are here to make connections — meaningful relationships that will be mutually beneficial and hopefully, grow long term.
As soon as you are home (or the next morning if it was an evening event), load the business card information from the people you met into your Microsoft Outlook or Google contacts.
Next, send LinkedIn invitations to the people you met with whom you would like to stay in touch. If you are not on LinkedIn, you should be. This site is a must for business professionals, even if you are using other social media to market your products and services.
If you had talked about getting together with someone you met, call or email that person to suggest a lunch or coffee meeting date in the next two weeks. Don’t let too much time elapse.
If the person you met was particularly helpful, such as giving you the name of their tax advisor or passing on customer leads, consider mailing a handwritten thank you note.
Pause to Reflect
Congratulate yourself for getting out there and making an effort! Think about what went well and what you could do next time to increase your effectiveness as a communicator or listener. Plan to do more networking by marking dates on your calendar.
If you’re in the Boise area, I invite you to register to attend our complimentary LinkedIn Strategies: Managing Your Brand workshop on Nov. 7 at the Zions Bank Business Resource Center in downtown Boise. In this two-hour training, you’ll learn how to build and manage your personal and business brand by connecting and commenting on LinkedIn.
Remember, networking is an ongoing process, not an isolated event.
Karen Appelgren is director of the Zions Bank Business Resource Center at Eighth & Main in Downtown Boise. The BRC helps aspiring, new or existing business owners start, expand and finance business ventures with the knowledge, tools and guidance needed to succeed.