Networking has become an integral part of our business culture for many reasons. It is important to socialize with people who are like minded and professional to keep your name out there. Networking can be used for many purposes, not just to garner clients or to try to secure a new position. It can be a vital part of continuing your education by keeping connected to people from different walks of life and those who are like minded or also in your particular field. For some people, however, networking can be intimidating and frustrating. Here are a few suggestions that might help to mitigate those fears and frustrations.
Utilize your friends and family
Let the people who know you the best help you make contacts that can help you in your career. By utilizing friends and family, you are tapping into a wonderful resource of people who will sing your praises and connect you with folks they believe you can help or who can help you. It may seem trite to consider, but it is one of the easiest and most successful sources for networking.
Remember, networking is no longer only a “face to face” endeavor
With the advent of the many social media sources we no longer need to network only in person. That is not to say that you should eliminate or avoid those in-person networking opportunities – quite the opposite. Utilizing social media can open doors for you and establish much of the ground work in terms of networking. By connecting with people through social media first, you can have established a relationship with someone prior to actually having ever met them face-to-face. This serves as an invaluable tool in creating strong relationships that can only help you in the long run.
Look for quality as opposed to quantity
When attending networking events, your goal should never be to hand out or collect as many business cards as you can. Rather, you should aim to make mutually beneficial contacts that further your career. By simply collecting or passing out cards you are missing the opportunity to establish strong bonds with people with whom you have things in common or who you can help in some way. Remember to focus on quality contacts and not strictly the number.
Try out multiple networking organizations and resources
Not all groups are going to be a good fit for you. By joining and participating in multiple groups you expand your options and can benefit more. Don’t just stick to groups whose members are similar to you. Go out on a limb and try some that might not seem to be a good fit or include people from other careers or walks of life. By adding a variety of people from a diverse background you will strengthen your network many fold.
Be genuine – be yourself, your very best asset
Don’t try to be something you are not and don’t try to oversell yourself. By simply being yourself you are certain to make more valuable contacts and those that will serve you well and last a lot longer. When you present yourself in a less than truthful light and the truth comes out about you (as it always does) you will only look foolish and will have alienated that contact for good.
Mistakes to avoid
Showing up unprepared
If you arrive at a networking event without having done your due diligence about the organization and its members you won’t have much success. Being prepared also means to have a plan for what it is you hope to get out of the event and how you are going to go about attaining that goal. Set a goal for how many phone numbers you want to get, or contacts to be mad in different fields.
Too focused on the “sale” – what’s in this for me?
If you come across as though all you are looking for is a client or you just want to close the deal you will lose out on many contacts and opportunities. People see right through a hard sell attempt. Use these events to meet people and establish connections and relationships, not just to make a sale on the spot.
Not listening enough
Too often we are already planning on what we want to say next rather than listening to what others are saying. Nothing is more insulting than having someone obviously not listen. By giving someone else an opportunity to tell you about themselves you will not only win them over but you will gather valuable information about that person that can help you later.
Forgetting your business cards
While this could be part of showing up unprepared it deserves a bullet all its own because nothing is more of a kiss of death than someone asking for a card and you don’t have one to give. This not only shows a lack of planning on your part but also a lack of professionalism.
Not being assertive enough
While being too aggressive will rub some people the wrong way, not putting yourself out there doesn’t serve you well either. Take the initiative to walk up to people, introduce yourself and find out what you can about that person. You never know how valuable that contact might be for you.
Taking too much of someone’s time
Most people have the same goals at a networking event, and that is to make connections to further their business or career. If you monopolize someone’s time that prevents them from making additional connections and it prevents you from making them as well. If you find someone fascinating and want to get to know them better you should get their card and follow up with another meeting at a later date.
Failing to follow-up
This is the kiss of death. If you tell someone you will get back to them and you wait too long or make no contact at all you have effectively nullified the networking efforts you had made. By doing what you say you will do, and doing it when you said you would, you establish yourself as someone who keeps their word and who respects the other person.
These are just a few suggestions that might make your networking efforts more successful and a little more enjoyable. When you are prepared going into a networking event you will come away with a lot more than you expected.