10 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE NETWORKING
We all know what it’s like. We go to meetings. We meet a lot of people. We talk about our businesses and we leave wondering why we didn’t get business. The reason we didn’t get business there is because generally speaking, people don’t give business out based on a single conversation. People generally give business to people they know and like. This brings me to my first networking tip.
1. Don’t network – build relationships!
Business is generally not generated on the spot. It’s developed over time by people who have gotten to know you and trust you, so when you go to a networking function, your goal should not be to walk away with business. It should be to start a professional relationship.
2. Know your elevator speech.
To start the relationship, you need to explain why people should give you business. Work on being able to describe what you do in 30 seconds or less.
Now, it’s okay to say something like, “I handle commercial cases,” or, “I sell furniture,” but you could really improve your explanation if you worked on not only getting across what you do, but suggesting in that same 30 seconds who should be giving you business and why.
What is the difference between saying what you do and describing why people should give you business? What you do doesn’t help me or show me why I should want your products or services. So, if you normally say something like, “My company sells high end furniture,” consider enhancing your message. Try saying something like, “We help companies improve their image by providing them with unique, high end furniture pieces tailored to their style.” My elevator speech? I help companies minimize their exposure in business, employment and general liability matters. With descriptions like this, you can explain not only what you do but who should give you business and why.
3. Begin with a positive attitude.
Attend networking functions when you are upbeat and looking forward to them. If you would prefer not to attend a networking event, or you are going to have to rush through it to get some place afterwards, don’t go. The point is to have fun, meet people and start developing relationships. That ties into my next tip.
4. Go to events you enjoy.
You are not networking. You are not doing something boring. You are building relationships. It should be fun and enjoyable. Go to events on topics you like. If you love wine, go to wine tastings. If you like reading, go to book clubs. Building your professional base of contacts, i.e., building a book of business, is not about going to every event you think you should and being bored out of your mind. It is about enjoying meeting people and starting to build professional relationships. You will have the best chance of doing so at events you feel comfortable attending, and want to attend, so go to them.
5. Attend events with objectives other than getting work.
If you are less focused on getting business from people, you are more likely to focus on starting relationships, so go to events with fun goals in mind. Go to a gallery opening to meet the artist. Go to a lecture to find someone to whom you can refer business. If you can, get the guest list in advance and decide who you want to meet.
Starting professional relationships means having solid, one-on-one conversations with people. Forget what you have been taught about meeting as many people as you can in a room. You want to try to meet at most 2-3 people at any one function — not 10 and certainly not 50.
Be aware of your body language. If you are looking around for the next person you want to meet, you will send the message to the person you are talking to that you are not genuinely interested in talking to them. You should be happy you are getting the opportunity to speak with someone you wanted to meet. Focus on that person.
6. Be nice to everyone – not just those you want to impress.
You want to make a good impression. I have no doubt you will be especially friendly and cordial to the people you want to talk to, but be nice to everyone. People notice not only how you treat them; they notice how you treat others. If someone puts a glass of water down in front of you, thank them. Hold the door open for the person behind you and give them a smile. Show that you are a person worth starting to get to know.
7. Listen to what your contacts say.
When you start speaking to someone that you think you would like to get to know, speak less and listen more. Ask questions and pay attention to what you hear. Show a genuine interest in what your contacts do, how they got started, what made them go into what they do, who they are and in those they talk about such as their colleagues, family and friends.
Whatever you do, do not go for a “hard sell.” Do not ask them whether they need your services or what you need to do to get them to give you business. You are beginning a professional relationship. That starts with finding out about them. Begin to get to know them as people and professionals.
8. Follow up promptly and personally, and arrange to see your contacts again.
Once you’ve met someone you hoped you would, follow up with them. Send each contact you met a handwritten thank you note. Do not wait weeks to send it out. It sends the message the person did not matter much to you. Do so right away, preferably, by the next day.
When you write your note, make it personal. Include in your thank you something the person told you that you found especially funny, interesting or salient. Show that you were paying attention to them and that the conversation was important to you.
Make a point of arranging to see them again soon. See whether they will meet you for a cup of coffee or lunch. Make your offer enticing. Go some place fun and inviting. Enjoy beginning to get to know your contact.
9. Never underestimate the power of positivity.
If something a contact told you impressed you, tell them. If something about them impressed you, tell them. This is not about giving out false praise — don’t. Be genuine, but there is probably something special about the person or you would not be so keen to meet them. If so, let them know.
10. Look for common ground.
As you are talking to your contacts, look for common interests, common values and common experiences. This is a person you should want to continue to get to know. Perhaps you both love watching professional tennis. Maybe you could take your contact to see the U.S. Open some day. Maybe you and your contact love murder mysteries. If there is a great murder mystery special on the Discovery Channel you know about, you can tell them they might want to watch it. These kinds of things begin to build your relationship.
If you follow these tips, you can build a professional network and grow your business.