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. If you mostly conduct business in your local area, this is especially true.
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 other’s 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 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 think it is an ineffective way to spend their time, its 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. Research conferences and trade shows, they are an excellent place to network. Do your homework and find their cost, attendance, and what classes they offer. Do some volunteer work at a community center. 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 — 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.
Dress appropriately and professionally. This should go without saying but wearing shorts and a tee-shirt to a business-casual event will get your remember for the wrong reasons. You don’t need expensive clothes, but it is essential to look appropriate and dress the part. Make your mom proud with how you present yourself.
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.
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, 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. 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 efforts wasted. So instead of heading right into your best sales speech, slow down, listen and cultivate the relationship. 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 or message 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. 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, follow these tips, and you will find yourself growing your network and finding ways to not only improve your self but help others along the way.