Business networking is as old as.....well.....business. Entrepreneurs and thinkers need to be connected to others of a like-mind, and sometimes those connections don't just happen. It requires getting out for events, attending webinars, and a host of other activities where business and social conversations happen.
LevelTen believes in networking, consistently attending and sponsoring local networking events and national conferences rich with networking opportunities. While trying to put our networking philosophy into words, I identified four major components of effective networking, with several avenues to accomplish success in each.
Preparing for an event will vary, but its a good general rule to not walk into an event completely ignorant. To achieve success:
- Prepare a list of target events related to your field of interest that you would like to attend.
- Research the demographics of people who attend the events to make sure they are truly your peers.
- Avoid a shotgun approach to event attendance, and be diligent to pick the ones that will fit your goals and personality.
- If a presentation is occuring, research the speaker(s) and if needed, make a contact with them to let them know you are excited about learning their topic.
- Keep up on social media to find out what people are saying about an upcoming event. It could tune you in to a special associated event.
- Keep business cards handy, and be able to tell others what you do with a 10-30 second pitch.
Presenting yourself is a key part of effective networking. People are going to make quick judgments, so having a personal brand to present will determine how effective you are in this area.
- Of course, first impressions are only made once, so dress and speak the way you want to be initially remembered.
- Approach people and introduce yourself to show them you have networking skills, especially if you have had previous social media contact.
- Beat others to the punch when it comes to offering services and connections. Doing for others will build your credibility as someone who is there to build relationships, not just take advantage of others.
How you engage people is the most critical part of this formula. Anyone can show up at a conference, but what does it take to impact people? That is one question you should ask yourself, as you consider other items as well.
- Avoid focusing on the people you already know. Make an effort to meet someone new and introduce them to others.
- Try to be in the highest traffic area at each event. Hang out close to a main door, near the bar, or by the food table. Just don't approach people who look like they might be headed for the bathroom.
- Unless you are at an event that encourages mobile based applications like Foursquare, stay away from your mobile device so you can be open and available to people at the event.
- Learn names. People like to hear their name, and the repetition will help you recall them at later events.
- If you enjoy a presentation, let the presenter know afterwords. It will be reassuring for them, and a good invitation to chat with you.
- Try to help others as much as you can. If they mention a need for a service you or someone you know provides, don't forget to let them know about it.
- Actually invite people out for coffee or lunch, rather than throwing out the ambiguous "We should get together sometime" line.
- Extend thank-you's to anyone and everyone who helps you out. Every connection helps, and simple gracious acts can go a long way in building relationships.
After meeting someone, you have a 48 hour window to reconnect with them before they forget you exist. Enough said.
These principles and guidelines are not etched in stone, but we have experienced success with them at LevelTen. Your specific field, personality, and role will help determine how to network most effectively in your space.