Networking Tip: Don’t Sell: First, networking is about meeting people and building relationships. It is not about selling (whether products, services, or yourself). However, once you build a relationship with someone (once they know, like, and trust you), they will buy what you have to sell if there is a fit with what they need. Just think – you may never “sell” anyone anything again – and yet, people may “buy” more from you than when you were trying to sell.
Many business networking groups encourage (and some require) passing along referrals. This means providing networking partners with information about and introductions to qualified leads for their businesses. This is often very productive. In addition, recognize that you (like everyone else) are also a consumer. So, be sure to ask yournetworking contacts to refer you to their other contacts when you need any goods or services. Everyone wins. You will be introduced to a trusted provider. The provider gets a qualified lead (you). Your networking contact strengthens their relationship with the provider. And, if all goes well, you will have a new contact to whom you can refer others.
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.
Networking Tip: Host Your Own Events! After you’ve been networking successfully for a while, it may be time to take your game to the next level. Hosting your own events is one way to do just that. If you have found yourself naturally connecting others together who may have mutual interests and you don’t mind handling the logistical details of organizing and promoting an event, then consider the benefits. You will naturally be in a position to help even more people get connected and you will be “the” person that everyone attending the events makes sure they get to know. I always recommend volunteering to help someone else host their events before becoming a host yourself, but hosting events really can take your networking results to the next level.
Once you have selected an event to attend, be prepared to work the room. Learn how to initiate conversations, which can include asking the host for some introductions, being approachable, and learning to hunt for opportunities in the room. Also, be prepared to handle a lull in the conversation, which can be a good time to tell a store, ask a question, or perhaps to exit the conversation. And, be prepared to make a graceful exit. You can agree to follow-up, make an introduction, get a drink refill, take a break, or just “let” them meet more people.
Tell Your Story & Be Liked – Building relationships is about becoming known, liked, and trusted. When you tell your story, you are well on your way. Most of us like a good story. And, we “like” the storyteller – assuming they tell us an interesting, inspiring, funny, or otherwise memorable story. The key is preparation. Think about what you want others to remember about you. Then, think about how to convey that in an interesting, inspiring, or funny way. Telling your story does not have to take a lot of time. And, in the context of business networking, it is best to make it concise.
Dress For Networking Success! We’ve all heard the phrase “Dress For Success”. When in the context of a job, that generally means to where what would be appropriate for your next role (your boss’ job) rather than your current role. When networking, it is a little more complicated. It may be appropriate to where full business attire, business casual, or resort casual depending on many factors. Whether attending a structured networking event or meeting someone for coffee, consider who you will be meeting, where you are meeting, the time of day, and even the culture of the city or area. For instance, you wouldn’t where a business suit to a community picnic even if you expected to meet lots of business owners there. The idea is to make a good impression and demonstrate good judgment. When in doubt, ratchet up one notch. It’s better to be the best dressed than the worst dressed in most any situation.
Always leave on a high note. Know when to exit a conversation and excuse yourself from the conversation before it begins to die down.
Don’t expect too much too soon. If you’re building a new relationship don’t ruin it before it starts by asking for the moon. It takes time to build a relationship based on trust and respect.
Sometimes the most rewarding conversation starts with “I was wondering if you might have any suggestions…” or “I’m having some difficulty with…” Asking for help is not a weakness but a strength. It simultaneously strengthens your relationships with other people who will appreciate the opportunity to contribute their expertise, at the same time as it improves your overall results.