How do you build a professional network?
I often tell my [college] students that their network begins with the people sitting next to them and continues throughout their careers. Networking is definitely part of life. It happens all the time. You really never know who you are going to meet and where. I’ve met people at the counter at Wegmans by striking up a conversation.
Is there a value in networking events?
Networking events can be useful for different reasons. Create a plan of what events you’ll attend. Who is your audience and where will you find them? Different events will attract different people and it’s important to remember who you’re targeting. People may end up going to 10-15 events. … What’s the return on the investment, not necessarily in terms of cash flow, but has it increased your brand or business? What is your goal from networking? Why join one group vs. another?
Have a clear idea of who you want to meet. You need to identify the key connectors in your industry, who can help connect you. Networking can turn social very quickly. You really have to put a value on your time. Figure out what your hourly rate is and how much you are spending on networking to see whether it’s really worth it. It’s an investment of time and travel. Really look at all of these things and determine whether it’s taking more time and energy from your day and your life. We are keepers of our own time.
As a business owner, you don’t have to think of just traditional networking events. Volunteering is just as important. Be open to sitting down with someone over a cup of coffee.
How do you meet someone at an event?
A lot of times, I’ll ask someone who does know that person for an introduction. Or, I’ll just walk up and say, “Hello.” Shake their hand, be honest, say, “I wanted to meet you.” Don’t jump into a sales pitch. Always have some conversation starters in your back pocket. There are some universal topics, you can always talk about sports, topical news or even the weather. Sometimes people want that distraction. They don’t want to talk about themselves 24/7. And don’t be a Debbie Downer. No one wants to hang out with that person at a networking event. Business networking is no different than starting a relationship. Be human, be respectful, be kind and be gracious if they offer time to sit down with you privately.
How do you follow up?
Send a note saying how nice it was to meet them and suggest following up. I have had great results with that approach. If they respond, that’s great. If they don’t, don’t stalk them. Listen to what they are saying.
One golden rule that many people forget or miss the mark on is that people are never going to remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel and the little things you do. They’ll remember the thank you note or the informed questions you ask. I find it refreshing when I meet with someone and they say, “Here are the questions I prepared.” It’s not just a sales pitch. Make sure you remember we’re all human beings first. Little niceties and politeness go a long way.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 5, Issue 11 (November, 2015).
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