If you’re one of those rare people who can dazzle any room, schmooze any client and win over any naysayer, then this post might not be for you.
For everyone else, let’s face it: networking can be a pain; necessary, but often joyless. For those of you who dread having to network at events, meetings or anywhere in between, you’re in luck. We have some tips to help get your networking juices flowing and help take the pain out of a crucial aspect of running a successful business and being an entrepreneur.
Do Your Homework
If possible, pick out events that you know will yield fruitful networking opportunities. If a colleague or confidant you trust relays information about an event – go. If you come across events sponsored by groups or organizations that you trust – go. If you know that an important person you’d like to network with will be somewhere – go.
You won’t always know who will be at an event or meeting or how successful it will be, but by doing some cursory research, you can improve the chances that you’ll make valuable connections.
Ask and Listen
Ask questions. A lot of them. Be inquisitive when you meet someone, whether you’re at a networking event or meeting them in general. People love to talk about themselves (you might, too), and by asking the right kinds of questions, you will naturally appeal to that person.
Beyond that, you will soon get down to the important stuff, like their needs and what they need help with. At that point, you might be able to step in with a solution or aid to the problem or, conversely, you might gain new perspective on problem solving and applications to your business.
This leads us right into the next tip.
Give Before You Receive
The goals of networking are, generally, to solve your problem, build an important relationship, find leads or somehow add value to your existing operation. These are also everyone else’s goals. Going into a meeting or event with the expectation that everybody is there to help you will ensure you fail spectacularly. When you care – and then actively try to help someone else out first – you’re building a real connection.
Maybe you’ve been in the same situation as your new connection. Maybe you know somebody who can speak to the particular problem that this person is having. Connect them. As abstract as this may sound, pay it forward without any expectation of something in exchange, and you’ll find that sometime down the road, someone will do the same for you.
This is a two-parter.
First: If you find yourself with nothing to say or nobody to talk to, be bold and be honest. Find someone in the room, introduce yourself and tell him or her that it’s your first time at the event, or that you don’t know anyone. Boom – you’ve created an authentic connection without any pretense.
Second: We said that people like talking about themselves. What do these people often talk about at events or prospective client meetings? How great everything is going. How much they’re doing in sales. How amazing their company’s growth rate is.
Putting a positive spin on something can be valuable, of course, and it’s often necessary. But if you’re having a problem or facing a challenge, it’s ok to let your guard down and be honest about it. After all, you’re looking for new connections to help you, right? What could be more valuable than meeting somebody who’s been in your shoes and can provide that perspective or direct assistance?
Don’t be afraid to bring up real issues.
Be diligent with following up with your networking contacts. Following up with obvious prospects or beneficial relationship partners should go without saying. But we’re talking about the other folks – those who don’t have something of clear value to add to your business right away. Send them a note, an invitation to connect or some other correspondence.
In the sometimes serendipitous world of business, you never know who might be able to help you down the road. If you follow up with the people you meet, you may have already met the right person. The right time will come.
“Great, I’ll send you that information next week.”
“No problem, I’d love to connect you with my colleague.”
When you don’t follow through on what you said you’d do, you’re not only cheapening the experience for your counterpart, you’re actually devaluing the concept of networking to yourself. If you’ve returned from an event and decided that, actually, there’s probably no point in sending that information after all and, further, it wouldn’t result in new business either way, you’ve just made your next event or meeting an even bigger challenge.
Following through on a promise made might not show its value immediately (see the previous section, “Follow Up”) but by effectively reneging, you’ve all but ensured that the time you just spent at an event or meeting was for naught. Again, it’s tough to predict the kind of assistance or collaboration you or your business will need in the future. Don’t limit your options before you’re even aware of them.