I’ve met folks out there who are professional networkers. They attend loads of events, make meaningful connections, really think about how to help the business owners and employees they meet, and make referrals, introductions, and connections. I envy their persistence.
There are people at the other end of the spectrum, too. This crowd also attends loads of events, but their connections are more about getting their own business cards into people’s hands. They don’t really think about how to help bring more business to the people they meet, and they rarely, if ever, make referrals, introductions, or connections. They are in it for themselves.
The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. We attend an average number of networking events, maybe one or two specific ones regularly. We may make sure to listen to what other people do in their businesses, but we usually want to make sure our cards also make their way into their hands. We give inconsistent thought and effort to understanding how to bring more business to those we meet, and can usually be counted on for a few referrals or connections here and there, but not much consistently. We have good intentions, but can lack follow through.
Do you see yourself in one of these groups? Maybe shades of a couple? Every person I’ve ever met who is genuinely part of the first group also sees room for improvement. It appears they are doing everything right already, but they still seek to do more. That’s part of what makes them so effective. Those at the other end tend to be defensive about it, and the rest of us are usually embarrassed about how our good intentions are paving the road to a very, well, “different” place, depending on your beliefs.
Here’s the point. There are simple things we can do to improve how we use our networks to help us grow our own businesses and skills. Some of these tips may seem like they won’t help us, but trust me—they will. I challenge you to try them out and see what happens!
Pick your battlegrounds.
Cultivate a habit of attending networking opportunities each month. If you’re a member of a Chamber, or networking group, or professional association, those are great places to start. Consider setting a goal of how many you’d like to attend each month, and look for a variety. Put them in your calendar and treat them with as much importance as any other appointment.
People are fascinating. If you aren’t having interesting conversations, evaluate the questions you’re asking! Maybe your approach is not one of curiosity. Make it a goal to see how many stories you can get the person you’re talking with to tell you. Think about questions you could ask ahead of time so you’re prepared. Let your curiosity guide you! If you make the conversation more about them than about you, you’re guaranteed to learn ways you can possibly help them.
Give only when asked.
I learned this from someone I consider to be a professional networker, and it has stuck with me. Only give your business card when asked for it. Don’t walk up to someone holding it out, even if they are holding theirs out to you. Yes, you’re there to network, but focus more on having a memorable conversation with them. When you reach out afterwards, they will remember you far more than just your card.
This step is critical. Before you even attend the event, schedule a block of time to do your follow up. Depending on the size of the goal you have for meeting people, you may want to schedule an hour, possibly more. Be sure to schedule it for as soon after the event as you can, even the same day if it’s a morning event. Use this block of time after the event to think about what you learned about each person you talked to. Did they give you ideas on how to refer them business? Anything else in the conversation spark an idea of something you can share with them? An introduction you can make? Once you figure it out, send them a follow up email or note. The sooner you do it, the greater the impact it will have.
Learning to use our networks more effectively is another way we can not only grow our businesses, but grow our skills. Both in the practice of applying better listening and the like, as well as learning from others we meet. Time spent invested in nurturing our networks is never time wasted. Happy connecting!