Many people believe that networking is something that only middle managers, job seekers and predatory salespeople do. They couldn’t be further from the truth.
Knowing how to build, maintain and ‘work’ a network of business contacts is shaping up to be a key business skill in an increasingly wired, globalised and fast-paced business environment.
You should treat networking as an extension of your current marketing and business development efforts. Below are a few tips for making it as painless and productive as possible:
Always carry business cards.
This is the cardinal rule. It takes very little effort to ensure that you have a supply of cards in your wallet, and a backup supply in your briefcase, sports bag or glove box.
Develop a 30-second introduction.
Unless you’re the type of person who can talk under water, the first few seconds after meeting someone new can be a nightmare. Overcome this pain by memorizing a 30 second introduction.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Include your name, company name and a brief summary about what you do. You should describe your company in terms of the solution it provides, rather than the product or service it sells, as this will help others to understand how you might be able to assist their business.
Develop a two minute follow-up.
More often than not, you will be asked for more detail about your business and its activities, so be sure you are ready with more detail. Keep it concise and punchy, but use it to express your passion for the business and the type of work you do.
There are different schools of thought on this, but my personal rule is to not offer a card unless I am asked for one. However, the corollary is that if you meet someone of interest; take the initiative by asking for their card.
Make immediate notes.
It is a good habit to make notes either during or immediately following a conversation. Don’t expect to be able to remember who said what after you’ve spent an evening talking with a room full of strangers. Often the most convenient place to make notes is on the individual’s business card. Just jot one or two key words as reminders, and be sure to initiate a follow-up contact within 48 hrs, even if it is only a short email saying you enjoyed the conversation.
Don’t get trapped.Set yourself a specific target each time you attend an event, say, to meet at least five new people, to ensure you don’t just sit in the corner talking to the same person all night.
Discount no one.Some people are quite ruthless. If they cannot see an immediate, personal benefit from getting to know someone better after exchanging pleasantries, they will cut the conversation short and move on. This is a very narrow mindset, as everyone you meet has potential to be a great contact – if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.
If you have not already, join LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) and invest the time and effort to develop a detailed profile of yourself and your business interests. Once you’ve done that, search LinkedIn for people who you already know that use the service, and invite new people that you meet to link with you via the site.
LinkedIn is a useful tool for managing your network. More importantly, it helps shed light on the networks of those people in your network; that is, who the people you know know, who those people know, and so on. In this sense, social networks magnify your own network by making visible the usually invisible networks of your colleagues.
This is the ‘secret sauce’ to successful networking: you should always be prepared to give first. One of the easiest methods of building a true connection with someone is to offer to help them with something. Try to establish an understanding what their needs may be and express a willingness to help out.
Invest time and energy.
Building a successful network requires time, energy and commitment. You need to establish regular communications to build rapport, nurture the relationship and keep one another appraised of what is going on in your lives and businesses. You need to keep the relationship warm so that when you do reach out to them for assistance, they will be glad to hear from you.
Mark Neely is a lawyer, technology commercialisation consultant and author of ten books, including The Business Internet Companion. You can read his blog at neelyready.com. You can view his LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/markneely