Networking is key to all businesses and non-profit organizations. Not only can networking be used to find new business but it can also be used to expand your platform to amplify your message. As with anything there is the right way and the wrong way to network. Let’s take a look at a few basic dos and don’ts of networking that will help you and your organization find new business as well and help you drive your message.
The Dos of Networking:
Have a plan – approaching a networking opportunity without a plan is like going into a game or a project without one, you’re not likely to be successful. Before your networking opportunity do your homework and set realistic goals. Knowing who will be in attendance will allow you to plan for who to connect with. Don’t be overly ambitious and try to connect with too many people at once. This will leave you little time with each and it will become evident that you are not looking for quality connections but quantity. Quality always out performs quantity. Once you identify who you want to connect with do your research about them and who they represent as well as what you plan on discussing. Knowing your target will go a long way to making a successful and memorable introduction.
Be confident – the difference between someone who is confident versus someone who is not, whether in a personal setting or business one is night and day. Confidence can mean the difference between your contact remembering you or never giving you a second thought. Be confident in everything you do. Have a firm hand shake and look your contact in the eye when you introduce yourself. Know your subject matter and speak with conviction. You’re the expert on what it is you’re connecting about, make sure your connection knows that not only with your words but how you speak them.
Be proactive – an introduction to your connection through a third party is great but don’t wait for a third party to introduce you. Don’t be a wallflower, be proactive and introduce yourself. By doing so not only will your confidence shine but you will control when and how you are introduced. Don’t be rude and interrupt a conversation. Instead, strategically pick a point at which it makes sense to introduce yourself without interrupting others.
Listen – in many cases your connection will tell you exactly what is paining them that you very well could have a solution for. So many sales and business development professionals have a hard time listening to potential customers and clients because all they can think about is what they want to talk about. It’s not all about you, it’s about the customer! If you listen to them they quite often will tell you exactly what they need. If you’re not listening you won’t hear it and then your sales pitch will either be off or will fall on deaf ears as it will sound like a sales pitch instead of a solution to your connection’s pain.
Follow up – why go through all the trouble of networking if you’re not going to follow up with your connections? Multiple touch points are key to any successful connection. If possible, try to reconnect briefly at the end of the event to say thank you. This repetition allows your new connection a second opportunity to remember you. If it’s not possible to reconnect prior to leaving and even if you did, remember to send a follow up correspondence. I’m sure you exchange business cards or contact information. Use that to send a note via email the next day to say thank you. Don’t be overly aggressive and ask for a meeting in this note. Simply say it was nice to meet them and thank them for their time. If you can work in a mention of something you spoke about during your face to face that will help your connection to remember you. Wait a bit (a few days to a couple of weeks) for your third touch point, a phone call (preferable) or follow up email. It is at this point that you should be asking to meet.
Use social media – a powerful networking tool in its own right, social media, especially LinkedIn can really help to bolster your networking. As mentioned above, research and developing a game plan is critical. Social media can help you accomplish this. Further, social media can help you virtually network with others and help you connect with like minded professionals. In future blogs we’ll talk more specifically about networking via social media.
The Don’ts of Networking:
Don’t be too aggressive – remember you’re networking and this isn’t an open call for you to pitch your company or product on Shark Tank. The idea here is to make the connection not to sell your product or service. If you network right, you’ll have the opportunity to give your pitch later in a more appropriate place and time.
Don’t discourage your employees from networking – your employees are often one of your best advertisements or marketing platforms. Don’t discourage them from talking about your organization, especially through networking. Encourage it and teach them the proper things to say and how to say them. Remember, you can climb to the top of the highest mountain to scream how great your company is and maybe a few people will hear you. Or you can whisper to your employees and all of their friends and neighbors will hear them.
Don’t wear a name tag – I have a whole blog post on this that you can read if you’d like but in short, wearing a name tag enables passive behavior and allows you to be a wall flower. Flip the script, don’t wear a name tag so you are forced to introduce yourself and engage with others.
Don’t expect immediate results – it’s a marathon not a sprint. Again, you’re not networking to sell your product or service, instead you’re just making the connection. Once the connection is made then the sales process begins.
Don’t be selfish – networking is a two-way street. While you’re trying to connect with others so are others trying to connect with you. If you only give time to the people you want to connect with you will severely limit your networking opportunities. Often times we benefit from networking connections we never knew we wanted to make. That said, be open minded, talk and network with everyone. You never know where it might lead.
If networking isn’t already part of your marketing and business plan it really should be. By not networking you are missing out on a large facet of marketing. Not only are you limiting your potential customer pool but you are also limiting avenues to possible solutions for your own business. A strong network is a key component to any person’s or organization’s portfolio. Leverage your network and the benefits will be long lasting and bountiful just as long as you do the dos and not the don’ts.
A Little Bit About My Blog:
I write about a vast array of topics related to marketing, public relations, business development and business management. Sometimes the topic is very focused and my blog addresses very specific challenges with specific answers. While other times my blogs take a wider view of a topic or theory and are intended to make the reader think on a macro-level as opposed to providing specific answers. It’s like the proverb says: “Feed a fish to a hungry person you’ve fed them for a day. Teach them to fish you feed them for life.” The goal is not to give you the answers but to help you solve the challenges of your business through critical thinking. Either way, I hope my blogs elicit a reaction, good or bad. If good, we can compare notes and share stories of success. If bad, we can have a good old fashion debate. May the best debater win.