Denis Waitley is credited with saying, “If you are not networking, you’re not working.” While there is a lot of truth to this statement, there is a lot more to it. There is a big difference between networking the right way and simply wasting your time. Properly networking leads to valuable business contacts and a relationship that is mutually beneficial. So, how do you network the right way?
You have to talk to others
This might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s something that business people get wrong on a regular basis. Showing up to a networking event, eating appetizers, roaming around the room, and then leaving is not networking. When you know you will be attending an event you need to cultivate a plan.
Think about what value you can bring to others that will be attending the event. Is there anyone that you want to target out? Is there someone that you can offer to help? Or a connection that you know would be a good fit for both sides? And, if you find yourself talking to someone that you weren’t expecting, be all-in on the conversation. Remember that you never know what connections someone has. You might be surprised at a great connection that you are able to make in an unexpected place.
Focus on the other person
Too many people show up at a networking event looking for what they can get out of the situation. They are only out to better their business situation. People can pick up on this situation in an instant, and they don’t like it. The best way to make a connection when you are networking is to focus on the person you are talking to.
Ask them questions to learn more about their business. Look for the ways that your talents and skill match up with what they are looking for. Can you help them out with an area of their business? Keep your focus on what you can do for them instead of automatically trying to figure out what they can do for you. If you take the time to invest in them, in the long-run it is going to benefit you as well.
Don’t always talk to the same people
It is more comfortable to talk to people that you already know, but it is not as beneficial. It can be good to have multiple conversations when working to build a relationship, but if you are always talking to the same people at networking events you will never expand your network. Spend some time mingling with people you have never met before.
If you find yourself struggling to talk to different people try setting a goal for each event. Choose how many people you want to have real conversations with before you leave the event. Then you will find yourself moving around the room more as you try to meet your goal.
Don’t be afraid to talk about other topics
Everyone networks for the sake of building their business connections right? That is true, but that doesn’t mean that you need to talk about work nonstop. Some of the best connections are established through shared interests, not necessarily related to work. People want to do business with people they like. Maybe you are both fans of the same sports team. Or, maybe your children attend the same school. People are more willing to help those that they have a personal connection with.
In order to do this ask lots of questions to learn more about the person. Purposefully look for a connection that you can make with them. If you both like craft beer than you can always set up a follow-up off-hours dinner at a local brewery.
Networking is one of the things that many people dread more than anything. This makes them anxious and nervous as they go into the event. This leads to either being too fearful to talk to others, or talking to the people that you are already comfortable with. Instead, do the opposite. Choose to be confident. If you don’t feel confident, fake it ’til you make it. Stand up tall, put your shoulders back, smile, and make eye contact with people when you walk around the room. Then, be yourself when you are talking to others.
Don’t forget your business cards
This seems obvious when you are networking, but it is all too common that people forget to bring their cards. Don’t be that person. There is no reason to try networking and building relationships if you aren’t going to provide them with an easy way to contact you. Keep cards in your pocket or your purse. When you are finished speaking with someone ask them for their card. The majority of people are going to ask for your card in return.
The best way to leverage networking in your favor is to focus on benefiting someone else. Work to make real connections with other people. See how you can assist them with their goals before asking them to do the same in return. True networking is about making connections. You never know when a connection you have is going to be able to benefit your business.