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But many of us dread walking into a room and introducing ourselves to a bunch of strangers.
Here are the most valuable tips in networking:
1. Resist the urge to arrive late. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. As a first attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
2. Ask easy questions. Don’t wait around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener – and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person.
3. Ditch the sales pitch. Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy description of your company. Before the event, create a mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new client you’ve landed or project you’ve completed. That way, you can easily pull an item off that list and into the conversation.
4. Share your passion. Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
5. Smile. It’s a simple – but often overlooked – rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation. And if you’re really dreading the event? Check the negative attitude at the door.
6. Don’t hijack the conversation. Some people who dislike networking may overcompensate by commandeering the discussion. Don’t forget: The most successful networkers (think of those you’ve met) are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.
7. Remember to follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
The idea of networking makes many people uncomfortable … or confused.
It’s easy to see why.
When most people think about networking it seems insincere at best — and selfish at worst. This, of course, is the complete opposite of what networking is supposed to be — friendly, useful, and genuine.
It’s easy for most of us to be friendly and useful with people we know. However, because networking is a “business activity” it’s easy to think that we need to act in a different way.
Unfortunately, most networking strategies come across as pushy, needy, or self-serving — even though the people using them rarely act that way in day-to-day life.
Don’t worry, there are definitely genuine ways to self–promote. So, in the spirit of helping everyone become a better networker, here are 24 networking tips, which from my experience, actually work.
The real goal of networking
1. The goal of networking should be to help other people. Yes, it would be nice if they helped you out as well, but networking is a two–way street. And your side of the street is all about helping others, not asking them to help you. Asking for favors should only become a possibility once you have learned more about the person and provided some value to them.
2. It’s far more important to understand their needs before you tell them about your needs. Your goals should not be on the forefront of your mind. You’re trying to develop a relationship with someone, which means you should be thinking about them. It’s your job to understand the people in your network, where they are coming from, and what’s important to them.
3. You don’t need to know the most people, just the right people. There is no need to shotgun your business cards across the industry or to pepper everyone with emails. Instead, focus on finding people that are relevant to you. As time goes on, you can decide if the interests that you share with someone are worth pursuing further. It’s better to have 5 people willing to help you out than it is to have 500 that simply know your name.
4. Don’t expect anything. The fact that you reached out and made contact with someone does not put them in your debt. No one is required to “pay you back.” Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favors, try reaching out with curiosity. Contact interesting and relevant people and see what happens. Some of them will respond and some of the won’t. Learn about the people that follow up. Find out what makes them interesting and how you can help them — and don’t expect anything in return.
5. Don’t leave networking to chance. Take some time and define what you are looking for in your network. Every once and awhile you’ll stumble across someone amazing on accident, but it’s a lot easier to find who you’re looking for if you know who they are in the first place. Be proactive and create a list of people that you want to contact on purpose.
6. Go beyond your industry. Connect with people on a variety of levels from a wide range of areas. By growing your network outside of the usual areas you will be more valuable to people that are in your immediate industry. The people you work with have personalities and multiple interests, right? With a broad network you can be the person that connects people across industries.
7. Don’t dismiss anyone as irrelevant. Maybe you don’t think a local blogger would be a good contact because you work at a medical practice. However, when you open a new branch and you want to let people know about it, you’ll be glad you reached out to someone with an audience.
How to reach out to someone new
8. Quantify how much time you’re going to take. People are busy and when someone new starts talking to them, the first thing that comes to their mind is “How long is this person going to talk to me?” or “How much time is this going to take?”
Address those concerns from the start by saying something like, “Hi. I have one item that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. It should only take two minutes. Do you have time now?” Asking questions like this not only shows that you respect their time, it also gives you the option of speaking with them later if they are too busy now.
9. Start by offering praise, not requesting help. Unless you have a mutual contact that is putting you in touch for a specific reason, it’s best to avoid asking for anything when you meet for the first time. Don’t ask for favors, for promotion, for advice, or even to meet up for lunch or coffee. Simply start by offering a short compliment. After they respond to this initial contact, you can begin moving things towards a more lengthy meeting.
10. Keep your emails short. If your first contact is via email, then split the message into smaller segments. Instead of reaching out to someone new with a long-winded, five paragraph explanation of why you are contacting them, use that first email to focus on a small bit of praise. You can send further details to them after they reply. Keep that first message friendly and short.
11. If you must ask for a favor, then ask for permission to continue. There are some situations where you need to ask for something, but don’t have the luxury of time to get to know them. Most situations don’t fall under this category, but if you must ask for something, then weave in requests for permission before you make an offer. I’ll give a real example.
I was recently talking to the director of an organization about offering a new course to his clients. I started by asking for permission to continue. “I’ve run successful courses on X before. Would you like to know more?”
He was interested and we ended up having a great conversation.
An additional benefit of this strategy is that you are getting the other party to say, “Yes,” to you. As a general rule, if you can get someone say yes to you three times, then the odds of your offer being accepted by them drastically increase. You don’t need to ask permission for everything, but if you’re opening a conversation where you will need to make an offer, then it can work wonders.
How to build the relationship
12. Try to provide as much value as you possibly can. The more value you create, the more it will come back to you many times over. Focus all of your networking efforts on helping the people you contact.
13. Start by focusing on being friendly and helpful. This is the number one tactic you can use to build your network. Simply spread information in a friendly and helpful way. Did you read a book that someone in your network will enjoy? Tell them about it or send them a copy. Are you using something that would help a friend with a project they are working on? Email it to them. Hear a new music album that a someone might enjoy? Send it their way. Building your network is the same as building friends. Be interested in what they are doing and offer friendly suggestions when you can.
14. Develop the habit of introducing people. Connecting like-minded people is a powerful to enhance your network. The idea of doing this seems foreign to many people, but it is actually quite easy. Do you know two people who enjoy reading the same type of books? Or like the same sports teams? Or love reading about history? Or work in the same industry? You get the point. Don’t make it hard, just introduce the two of them by sharing their common interest. They can decide if they want to pursue the relationship further.
15. Ask if people want to be connected. If you’re apprehensive about connecting two people, then ask one of them if they want to be connected. “I know another person that’s doing Y. Would you like for me to introduce you sometime?” Even if they aren’t interested, they will appreciate the offer.
16. Nurture your current network. Most people think of networking as reaching out to new people, but don’t forget about the network that you already have. (Hint: You probably call them your friends and co-workers.) There is no need to wait to meet new people to start connecting others or sharing useful information. Network within the groups that are already close by.
Making networking a habit
17. Try to contact one person per day. If you reach out to 5 new people every week, that would be about 250 per year. Sending an email or making a quick call will only take about 5 minutes of your day. Not everyone is going to get back to you, but if you contact that many new people, then you’re bound to make significant progress.
18. Don’t take “No,” personally. Everyone is busy. For most people, it’s simply a matter of timing. If you catch them on a good day, then they will happily talk or meet with you. If they’re swamped, however, then a simple “No” might be all that you get. Don’t take it to heart. In most cases, it’s not a reflection of you or what you said.
19. Make it a point to follow up. One or two days after meeting someone for the first time, follow up with a brief email or note. This is an opportunity to develop the relationship by bringing up a topic that you discussed before or making a comment on an interesting topic. Following up with relevant conversation helps to anchor your previous interaction in their mind and displays more personality than just sending a message that says, “Thanks for talking!”
20. Did you fail? Try reaching out in a different way. You don’t want to pester anyone, but if you give them a few weeks and don’t hear a response, then there is nothing wrong with being persistent. For example, dropping in to talk face to face has resulted in great conversations with people that previously ignored my emails. Sometimes switching it up is all you need to do.
Things to remember
21. Network with the intention of helping other people, not yourself. People enjoy doing business with those that they trust and like. The only way to build that trust is to engage with others in a helpful way. Yes, trust takes a long time to build, but insincerity takes even longer to overcome. Once you’ve developed a relationship and created a bond, then you can move on to negotiating for favors and asking for help.
22. Networking is more about listening to what people say than saying the right things. Take the time to listen to people’s stories. You can only provide something of value to them if you listen to who they are and what they do.
23. Sometimes the best networking opportunities involve real work. Volunteer for events, committees, or projects that will have interesting people at them — or better — working for them. Working on a project or task with someone is one of the best ways to develop a relationship. For example, volunteering for a non–profit can be a great way to get to know their influential board members.
24. Email is easy to send … and ignore. Yes, email is quick, simple, and can be sent to anyone, anywhere. It’s also very easy to be filtered out and ignored. If you really want to meet someone, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, propose a video chat, or arrange a face-to-face meeting. These communication channels are usually less crowded and more personal, which means that your message will be more memorable. Email can be a great tool, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Get started right now
You don’t need to be a master to start building your network. Just taking a moment to reach out is a big step that will help most people. Sharing useful information and connecting like-minded people are simple actions that everyone will appreciate. Focus on being useful and don’t make networking harder than it has to be.
What are your best networking tips? How have you successfully built relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Tomorrow is our 3rd Tuesday CFLBP buffet lunch networking meeting! If you are a business owner or manager that would be interested in joining the Central Florida Business Professionals networking group (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Central-Florida-Business-Professionals-Networking-Group/140978922582800), please come and check it out, introduce yourself and have a FREE buffet lunch with us just for coming and sharing. We would like to refer business to you but we need to meet you and know what you do to help! We are a member of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce as a group. Hope to see you there!
Respect each other
Attack ideas not people
Comments made here stay here
Comments belong to the group
One person talks at a time
Avoid passing judgment
No beepers/cellular phones
Be supportive of the other team members and their contributions
Silence and absence is consensus
Practice active listening
Keep discussion relevant
No side talking
One conversation at a time
No backtracking for people who are late
Avoid killer phrases like “we already tried that” and “it will never work” and “yes, but . . .”
5-minute rule (any one can call 5 min rule–to close out a discussion going no where)
Everyone is equal
One person speaks at a time
Allow people to change
Balance consistency with flexibility
Check assumptions before acting
Criticize ideas, not people
Do not retaliate
Keep an open mind
Keep communication lines open
Speak for yourself
Be open to the ideas of others
Take responsibility for your own learning
Keep things specific, real, here.
You have the right to pass
Use your time wisely
Information discussed in our group is confidential.
Don’t discount others’ ideas.
Be supportive rather than judgmental.
Give feedback directly and openly;
You are responsible for what we get from this team experience.
Do not accept the first idea – go for the second and even better the third.
Be as open as possible but honor the right of privacy.
Focus on our goals, avoiding sidetracking, personality conflicts and hidden agendas.
Absenteeism permitted if scheduled in advance with the leader.
Start and end meeting on time.
Review and agree on agenda at start of meeting and then stick to it.
Publish agenda and outcomes.
Everyone is expected to help facilitate the meeting.
Everyone is expected to participate and to respect and support the right to be heard.
100% focus and attention while meeting.
Frequently check for understanding – summarize and/or paraphrase
Differences or conflicts are handled positively.
Phones and/or pagers on vibrate, instead of ring or beep
Be open to new concepts and to concepts presented in new ways.
One person talks at a time.
Job titles are left at the door.
No finger pointing – address the process not the individual.
Work towards understanding consensus
Be willing to forgive.
Include everyone in the discussion
Ask for what you need
Start and end on time.
Don’t interrupt someone talking.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Everyone is responsible for the success of the meeting.
No killer statements (don’t shoot down ideas).
Be open to ideas
Share air time
Share your knowledge.
Appreciate other points of view.
Provide key point notes to participants.
Respect each person.
Stay focused on the task and the person of the moment.
Criticize only ideas, not people.
Keep an open mind.
Question and participate.
Attend all meetings.
Ask a question when you have one.
Feel free to share an illustration.
Request an example if a point is not clear.
Keep confidences and assume others will.
Practice active listening.
Be a team player.
Have a different opinion.
Share the limelight.
Confine your discussion to the current topic.
Give freely of your experience.
Ensure everyone participates at least every hour.
Be an “Adventurer” not a “Prisoner”.
Listen alertly and take accurate notes.
Say “Thank You”.
Sending out Mailchimp Meeting Reminder with updates from the Advisory Board Meeting held on Friday.
We are revamping our networking group. We have opened it up to all businesses. We are no longer exclusive! Dues remain at $50 per year for each company. Everyone is welcome!
After today’s presentation on using the CFLBP website and discussing the features available to our members, we have had 8 people sign up for the RSS Feeds! That is awesome. Thank you all.
Welcome to WordPress! This is our new CFLBP website. I hope you find this site to be an easy and informative tool you can use! I have set up an event calendar so you can register and post your events. I am adding a contact email form too as well as a photo gallery. Keep checking back for new and updated meeting recaps and events as we meet. Maybe even some videos of our meetings and presentations! Thanks for being a member of CFLBP! See you soon – Gayle