Networking is a very important marketing tool as a way to establish beneficial partnerships and generating new business. Whether it is an informal coffee or an extravagant event there are certain actions that you should be taking and certain actions that you should not be taking in order to optimize your networking experience. Networking itself has the ability to open doors for your business, increase word-of-mouth, gain you free advice and other advantages, or gain your business credibility. Whether you are a professional networker or a “newbie” you want to form connections with your neighbors and your competitors to improve your niche in the market place.
I have taken the liberty of writing down the tips that I have accumulated over the years, so here are some do’s and don’ts to aid you in your networking efforts:
- Put your best foot forward- Chances are everyone else in the room is just as nervous as you are. Take a deep breath, smile, and make eye contact as you engage with others. Something as simple as a smile and eye contact can convey confidence, while making you feel confident at the same time.
- “Elevator Pitch”- Have a concise and easily understandable description of your business and your position in the business on hand. Remember other professionals may not use some of the same terminology that you do in your business. I constantly practice and time my pitches down to 90 seconds.
- Business cards- Make sure to have enough business cards with you, because they are a great way to stay in contact with those that you meet. Write down the time and place that you met an individual, or some details so that you can personalize your conversation later on.
- Follow up- Follow up, they gave you their information for a reason. Use it! Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, you will have tried and practiced following up for future occasions.
- Listen and learn- Don’t just talk, take the time to ask questions and learn from others. Also listening will allow you to better learn how to network with others. I like to make sure to use their name when interacting with them to let them know that I was paying attention, and yes sometimes I have to cheat by reading their name tag.
- Quid-pro-quo- Like in most relationships both parties should benefit. Offer free help, favors, advice or reduced cost services and watch how you’ll get them in return.
- Patience is a virtue- Networking does not produce immediate life long connections, you need to be patient and nurture those. Like I said before make sure you follow up and offer them something in return.
- Prepare questions- Come prepared with material for the individuals that you anticipate meeting. Think about what they would like to share and what you would like to learn.
- Don’t be timid- You will never make more connections if you only talk to the people that you already know, but it is okay to ask them to introduce you to others that they may be more familiar with. Step out of your comfort zone, and eventually overtime you will push its boundaries.
- Don’t only speak to one person- Limit the amount of time you spend talking to people. Think of networking almost like speed dating, you’re meeting more than one person in a limited amount of time. Chances are you both want to move on to meet other people in order to make the most of the event.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions- You may be afraid that your questions will come across as ignorant, but don’t be. People love to talk about themselves and what they know.
- Avoid overzealous self-promotion- There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Don’t be that annoying overzealous person at the party, it’s not cool.
- Don’t forget to follow up- Again, following up is one of the most important parts of building a professional connection. Even if it is a lead that you don’t think will lead to anything, practice your skills.
- Don’t get drunk- At most networking events there is often alcohol. While you may feel nervous and in need of “liquid courage” limit yourself, being drunk will only destroy your credibility. I usually cut myself off after two, but that varies depending on the length of the event.
What about social media networking?
Social media is also a hugely valuable networking resource. Whether it is LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. social media allows you to network with people who you may never meet in person. However, it is important to remember that networking over the Internet should be approached differently than in person networking.
Here are some things to keep in mind when reaching out to others over social media:
- Where are they?- Find their preferred social network and reach out to them through that channel. Because of the amount of people with access to social media communities it is important to initiate any networking. Think about it as being in a ballroom filled with 100+ people and really only wanting to talk to one of them. Chances are that they will not come to you, but that you will have to go to them.
- Less is more- Like in in-person networking make your pitch brief and impactful. With so many social media channels available it is important to standout without taking up their valuable time.
- Don’t expect a response- Through social media you may not always get a response. Simply open the door, but do not push them through it.
- What does your profile says about you?- Make sure all your social media channels are as impressive as possible. Chances are if you reach out to them on one, they will see your profile or find your other profiles. Ask yourself, would a future employer like to see or read this?