Networking is a critical business development tool for most professionals and small business owners. When you grow your network, new business opportunities have a way of finding you, potential partners appear, connections are established, and you garner trust in the local community.
But effective networking doesn’t just happen. It requires time and attention. But how do you go about making a good and lasting impression?
Sharon Schweitzer, an expert on business networking and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, offers these ideas to maximize your networking success.
- Include some face time: Today, it’s possible to network extensively online via social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Alignable and others. But there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Making personal connections via live networking events, industry conferences and social gatherings can pay big dividends and is still one of the most powerful forms of networking.
- Use smart conversation starters: When opening conversations in networking situations, the idea is to quickly build rapport of some kind. Think ahead about what to use as conversation starters. For example, How do you know the host? Are you originally from here? Where was your last vacation? Avoid diving too directly into a professional conversation. Ease from personal banter to questions about their business first.
- Remember the 80/20 rule: When engaging in networking conversations, it’s best to listen 80% of the time, ask questions 10%, and share your opinion 10%. Being an active and engaged listener will earn you valuable networking points with your counterparts. It’s fine to share some details of your own goals and interests, but keep them brief and to the point.
- Open and close conversations: Be prepared with questions about business if they ask about your business. A few examples include: What attracted you to this industry? Tell me about your logo design? Before you leave a group, close conversations with “I’ve enjoyed visiting with you. Thanks for your time.” Or, maybe “I’ll see you next month, have a good evening.” Personalize to your own comfort level.
- Be authentic and consistent: Speak truthfully about yourself, your background, what you want and where you plan to go. Use up-to-date professional photos on LinkedIn and other social media. Responding to questions about what you want and who you are must align with your social media platforms, resume and recommendations.
- Personalize connection invitations: Avoiding sending generic “off-the-shelf” invitations via email or on social media. Instead, personalize invitations, and mention common connections. For example, “A pleasure meeting you at the AMA lunch. You mentioned volunteer opportunities; I’m reaching out to connect and possibly set a date. Does September 14, 25 or 26 work?” “Thanks for your chamber presentation. Attached is a link to my latest article. Thanks for offering to share with your colleagues.”
- Maximize chambers of commerce and industry leaders: Check out your local Chamber of Commerce for opportunities to network with area businesses and civic leaders. Seek out industry leaders and other subject matter experts you can learn from. Reach out to thought leaders with lunch invitations and LinkedIn requests.
- Do your networking homework: Before attending networking events, research the individuals and companies attending. Be intentional with your networking goals and clear in what you are striving for in your connections.
- Be present: Checking email, texts or social media on your phone between conversations (or worse, during) makes you seem disconnected or disinterested. Remember that each conversation is potentially valuable personally and professionally, so use the limited time wisely.
- Follow up with something of substance: Follow up within two days of meeting a new contact. Instead of merely saying “nice meeting you,” however, make a specific suggestion or recommendation and share something of substance. For example, link to an article of mutual interest. This keeps the focus from being purely transactional and shows genuine interest.
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