Regular readers of my blog know that I believe networking is one of the most vital activities necessary for success, whether you are looking to jump into a new career, jumpstart and old one, grow your business, increase your exposure, learn more about a new locale, or meet new faces. The people you know and the people you don’t know yet—whether you network in-person or only virtually—are your most critical assets.
But like a lot of things in life, what’s most important isn’t always what’s popular or fun or easy. A visit to the dentist’s office is certainly not at the top of my fun list, but it’s important, just as taking my car to the dealer for an oil change is important, but no fun.
Unfortunately for some, networking is a lot like a visit to the dentist. They don’t like it, but they do it anyway because they know it’s important. For me, I happen to enjoy networking. I’m a people person by nature, so any chance to chat it up with others is welcome. But I do recognize that networking is hard work . . . even for me, just as eating right and working out is hard work (unless, of course we’re talking volleyball!). But I do try to eat right and work out. Why? I not only like the results, I need the results to keep me fit and trim and full of energy. Networking is a lot like that. It’s hard work, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but the results are worth it.
Here are some tried and true suggestions for those who struggle with networking events:
- HAVE A PLAN. Networking is about more than showing up for cocktails and finger food. Sure, there is a lot of that, but it’s really nothing more than the stage upon which real networking takes place. Attend a networking event with questions you want answered, an idea of specific people you want to meet, and information you are ready and willing to share with others to help them. And bring a supply of business cards and plan to distribute 5, 10, or 20 or more to prospects and/or industry contacts (and be sure to get their cards as well!). The key to success is to have some sort of goal in mind that will keep you focused and purposeful. Otherwise, once you’ve sipped a cocktail and had your fill of the buffet line, what are you going to do?
- YOUR INTENTIONS ARE IMPORTANT. If you’re just looking to get others to help you by making connections for you or providing you with information, you probably won’t get very far. Approach networking as a way for YOU to help others, as a way to serve. Be a mentor. Act as a resource. Be the one to help others make connections. You’ll not only feel great about your efforts—which is payback enough—but I have found that when I help others, the help that I need often finds its way to me.
- DON’T BE SHY. I know many find this the toughest part of networking—the kissing babies and shaking hands phase—but don’t be a wallflower. Engage others in conversation. If you have difficulty talking about yourself, ask others about their companies, their careers, the products they make, the challenges and triumphs they’ve encountered, their goals, etc. By getting others to open up about themselves, you can often ratchet your own discomfort level down a notch or two so that conversation comes easier and you can begin to describe how you might help them.
- BE AUTHENTIC. When you do talk with others, actually LISTEN and show genuine interest. Smile, laugh, look and dress comfortably. Be the real you, because when you’re not comfortable in your own skin, others will be uncomfortable around you, which is certainly a recipe for disaster.
- FOLLOW-UP and FOLLOW-THROUGH. If you collected business cards, names and emails, follow-up after the event with a short, “nice to meet you” note or phone call. And if you promised anyone more information or a follow-up call, be sure you deliver on all promises made. First impressions are lasting impressions, and making a bad first impression will be your last impression. Guaranteed.
- APPLY THESE SAME GUIDELINES TO ONLINE NETWORKING. Just because an event is online, doesn’t change any of the above. The setting may be different, but you still need a plan and the right intentions and follow-through to make the most of your networking opportunities.
Some of the ways I network and serve others are through San Diego Sports Innovators (http://www.sdsportinnovators.org); the Southern California Venture Network (http://www.scvn.org/); the American Marketing Association (www.ama.org); and various University of San Diego Alumni Events (http://www.sandiego.edu/alumni/alumnirelations/). Online, I have found lots of networking success and opportunities through LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/pauljune).
What has your networking experience been like? What groups do you participate in? What kinds of events do you attend? How do you serve others?
Share your experiences here.