Networking – why do it? Are you doing it? Are you any good at it?

Did you know that you can greatly enhance the performance of your team and your company through networking? One of the things about networking is that there can be a lot of mystique attached to it. There is the idea that networking is something you do in a strict business setting where you exchange business cards, etc.

Actually, networking is simply building and developing relationships with other people – anywhere! Even if you don’t think you have a network, you do – think of all the people you know, the people with whom you have worked, whom you have met at conferences, at dinner parties, etc. All of these people are part of your network already. And, you come into contact with people on a daily basis – any one of them can become part of your network.

Business and learning opportunities are frequently developed through the relationships we have created with other people. Networking functions provide the opportunity to expand our contact list, particularly when we create and nurture quality relationships. It is not enough to visit a networking group, talk to dozens of people and gather as many business cards possible. However, every networking function has tremendous potential for business and learning. Here are five strategies to make networking profitable:

  1. Choose the right networking group or event.
    The best results come from attending the appropriate networking events for your particular industry or discipline. This should include trade shows, conferences, and associations dedicated to your type of business.
     
  2. Focus on quality contacts versus quantity.
    Most people have experienced the person who, while talking to you, keeps his eyes roving around the room, seeking his next victim. This individual is more interested in passing out and collecting business cards than establishing a relationship. A good approach is to make between two and five new contacts at each networking meeting you attend. Focus on the quality of the connection and people will become much more trusting of you.
     
  3. Make a positive first impression.
    You have EXACTLY one opportunity to make a great first impression. Factors that influence this initial impact are your handshake, facial expressions, eye contact, interest in the other person and your overall attentiveness. Develop a great handshake, approach people with a natural, genuine smile and make good eye contact. Notice the colour of the other person’s eyes as you introduce yourself. Listen carefully to their name. If you don’t hear them or understand exactly what they say, ask them to repeat it. Many people do not speak clearly or loudly enough and others are very nervous at first. Make a powerful impression by asking them what they do before talking about yourself or your business. As Stephen R Covey states, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Comment on their business, ask them to elaborate, or have them explain something in more detail. As they continue, make sure you listen intently to what they tell you. Once you have demonstrated interest in someone else, they will – in most cases – become more interested in you. When that occurs, follow the step outline in the next point.
     
  4. Be able to clearly state what you do.
    Develop a ten second introduction as well as a thirty second presentation. The introduction explains what you do and for whom. This introduction should encourage the other person to ask for more information. When they do, you recite your thirty second presentation, which should give an example of your work and the typical results you have achieved. Each of these introductions needs to be well-rehearsed so you can recite them at any time and under any circumstance. You must be genuine and authentic.
     
  5. Follow up after the event.
    In my experience, most people drop the ball here. Yet the follow-up is the most important aspect of networking. There are two specific strategies to follow: First, immediately after the event – typically the next day – you should send a handwritten card to the people you met. Mention something from your conversation and express your interest to keep in contact. Always include a business card in your correspondence. Next, within two weeks, contact that person and arrange to meet for coffee or lunch. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about them, their business and the challenges they face

Networking does product results. The more people know about you and your business, and the more they trust you, the greater the likelihood they will help and support your learning.

Here’s your call to action: identify just one networking opportunity this week and try ‘it on for size’!