The Art of Networking


Article by Grace DurfeeNetworking is a key ingredient to personal and professional success. Ask small business owners how they get most of their clients and you’ll frequently hear “through word of mouth.”

Ask someone who’s been recently hired how she landed the job and you’ll probably discover it was “through connections.” Ask new homeowners how they hooked up with their realtor and you’ll likely learn it was “from a friend’s recommendation.”

Although many situations lend themselves well to networking, it’s practically essential when starting or expanding a business, looking for a job, beginning a new career or settling into a new community.

As vital as networking is, many people cringe or get sweaty palms at the thought. If this happens to you, take heart, there’s much you can do to develop your poise and your enjoyment in networking situations.

One thing that’s helped many of my clients and workshop participants is to expand the stereotypical definition of networking. Networking is not a contest to collect a stack of business cards, get a hot lead, or reel in a live prospect. “A broader view of networking,” writes C.J. Hayden, author of GET CLIENTS NOW!, “is creating a pool of contacts from which you can draw clients, referrals, resources, ideas, and information.” Think of networking as beginning and building relationships, getting the word out about what you do, and looking for ways to contribute to others. Whew! Doesn’t that take the pressure off?

It may also be time to expand your notion of where and when you can network. There are many organized networking events and groups, ranging from Chamber of Commerce mixers to lead exchange groups, but you are far from limited to these. You can network anywhere that people gather — in the grocery checkout line, at conferences and lectures, social gatherings, meetings of professional organizations, volunteer activities, sporting events, and yes, even in elevators.

Spend time attending various events to find the ones that feel like a good fit for you. Networking is most effective when it’s done consistently. It’s better to attend monthly meetings of one or two groups instead of hitting a new networking venue each week. Choose a few groups you’ll enjoy returning to again and again.

NETWORKING TIPS

  • Before attending a networking event, set an intention. Make a game, for instance, of meeting a certain number of people, finding an answer to a question, or setting up a meeting with someone you’d like to get to know better.
  • If you are feeling shy and uncomfortable at a networking event, chances are the person next to you feels the same way, and would be grateful if you broke the ice. Introduce yourself naturally by offering your hand and saying something like: “Hi, I haven’t met you yet.”
  • Buddy up. If you go to an event with a friend, you won’t feel like you are in a sea of strangers. If one of you strikes up an interesting conversation with a person or group of people the other can join in and be introduced.
  • Be curious — ask questions. Most people love a good listener and are happy to talk about the subject they know best — themselves. To encourage conversation, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no response.
  • Look for things you have in common. This will help you remember the person and you may bond over a similar interest or challenge. Don’t be afraid to get personal here. People do business and refer to people they know, like, and trust. Give others a glimpse of who you are, not just what you do.
  • Look for opportunities to be of service — perhaps there’s a newsletter or article you can send, a book recommendation or other resource you can offer, or a referral you can make. Ask people what they need and how you can support them.
  • So you can make appropriate referrals, find out exactly what they do, who their ideal clients are, and how their clients benefit from their products or services.
  • Ask for what you need, without being pushy. Don’t limit yourself to strictly business. You can obtain recommendations for great restaurants, movies, long distance plans, vacation spots and more through networking.
  • Spend enough time with each person you meet but don’t force a conversation beyond its natural ending point. Exit gracefully so you both can meet others.
  • Don’t feel like you are wasting your time talking to people who clearly will never become customers. You are better off looking for “chickens” — people who know and can put you in touch with other people — not just “golden eggs” —ideal prospects. Considering that the average person knows 250 other people, every interaction holds exciting potential.
  • When you describe what you do, lose the jargon. Most people are too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what you mean, and if they can’t easily explain to others what you do, they won’t be able to refer you. Remember the childhood game of “telephone”? That’s a great way to test out your “elevator speech.” Gather a few friends; whisper your intro into the first one’s ear and see how intact your message stays as it spreads.
  • It’s always more important to get a card than give one. If people don’t have cards, ask them to write their contact info on the back of yours. Bend the corner of the card so you don’t mistakenly give it out to another person.
  • Wear an outfit or a purse with two pockets, one for your cards and one for those you collect.
  • Write on the back of cards you receive how and when you’ll follow-up, and anything else that will help you remember the person. You can do this while you talk to the person or immediately after the event, while the details are fresh in your mind.
  • FOLLOW UP — most people don’t, so this alone will make you memorable. It can help to discipline yourself to follow-up with people within a week, or at least before attending your next networking event.

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