Making Connections: Networking Effectively

Some of us love it! That chance to engage in small talk, meet people and find out information about the next newest business idea! On the flip side – for some of us, fighting anteaters for their termites in Bolivia sounds like a much better idea! But regardless of how you feel about it, it’s an essential skill in business.

Getting Out There

The first step in successful networking is, well, actually getting out there.

Sure, you can use social media like LinkedIn to ask for connections, but is that going to get you what you really want? If the answer is yes, that’s cool – and may I suggest you stop reading and go back online? (We’ll get back to social media later) But if you want more – then attending conferences, seminars, volunteering, even taking a class or two will get you out there chatting with people. That’s where real conversations and connections take place. When attending an industry event, if you know what companies you’ll be speaking with, research them ahead of time. Bring up statistics, compare them to other companies and point out why you like what they are doing and why they are successful. If you don’t know who you’ll be meeting ahead of time, read up on industry stats and trends.

As well as knowing the companies that will be represented, be prepared by having a short blurb about yourself and your company in mind. Practice your introduction, make it short and then turn the conversation back to them. Also, a huge faux pas is asking for something without offering something, and never, ever at the first meeting. It’s something that Andrew Sobel, author of Power Relationships, was told by hundreds of executives. So when speaking to others, be mindful that you are quite skilled, and have many things to offer. Keep an open mind and really listen to those you meet. You don’t know when your expertise, or someone you know may be helpful to someone else. “The greatest networkers I know genuinely like to help others. They’re always doing it. And if they ever do need anything, people will fall over themselves to help them.” explains Andrew Sobel. Ask questions about their business, making mental notes. If the conversation is a good one and you feel there may be a connection, note that you probably want a second meeting with that person. It would be nearly impossible to set up a second meeting with everyone, so this is where prioritizing the contacts is a good idea. Start your list with those you really want to get to know and finish it with those who may not fit the bill. Chances are you won’t get to those last ones.

Let’s say you meet 100 people at a seminar, exchanging business cards and chatting. Ideally, you should be limiting yourself to 5 to 10 strategic relationships at the top of the list. These are the ones with whom you will try to set up a second meeting. The next 20 – 30 would be those with whom you see a potential, either helping them or them helping you, at some point in the future. When creating these relationships you want to make sure that you keep in touch on a regular basis and that the interaction was worth their time – sharing a relevant article or a career update would be examples of quality interactions. The rest of the contacts would be in a very casual place at the bottom of the list. Maybe you connect again, maybe not.

I spoke about social media, and while I said it wasn’t the way you were going to get any place real, I didn’t say you should block those sites all together. Social media plays an important role: you need to have a professional social media presence, i.e. LinkedIn, Ladders, etc. This is a prerequisite, as anyone you might start to connect with will use these to check you out at some point in the relationship formation process. Notice that this is necessary, but not sufficient alone to establish a strong network. Keep your posts relevant to your business and ideals. Include something personal in your posts – how it affected you or someone you know. Re-post topics from individuals you admire as well as your contacts, and remember you don’t always have to agree – sometimes an alternate point of view is welcome and will inspire great conversations.

The follow up is critical as it cements the start of a network relationship. Send those contacts you met a note, an email is fine at this point, reminding them of what you were talking about when you first met, so you can return to the connection that started this follow-up. Express your interest in what they were talking about and try to ask a question. The second tip would be to have a goal when you have that follow-up conversation. Schedule a coffee or a lunch. You should have plenty to talk about due to the email correspondence. If you joined a group to make connections, by the time the next meeting of your group occurs, you have established at least one contact in your network. Remember to maintain your network with a monthly email and contact at the group event. Follow these steps and you will be a professional at making business connections and expanding your network.

(It’s ok, I promise it’s better meeting people than anteaters!)