Developing effective networking skills is an important way to build your business or organization. Networking involves more than just attending mixers and local business meetings, though these can be useful. These tips will help you develop excellent networking skills and avoid the most common pitfalls when you’re developing business contacts.
Choose Your Goal
At the outset, it’s important to ask yourself what your goals are. That way you will pick network meetings that will help you achieve what you’re looking for. Networking groups can be quite diverse. For example, some may be focused on learning certain business skills, whereas others are intended specifically for making contacts.
Remember that networking is about being genuine. Be sincere and work to build trust with the people you meet. Talk to your new contacts about how you can help them. Networking is not just about exchanging business cards, it’s about sharing ideas and skills, and building relationships based on mutuality.
Become a Volunteer
Not only does volunteering allow you an opportunity to meet new people within your community, it is also a great way to learn new skills and gain insight into different businesses and career situations. Additionally, you will gain satisfaction from knowing that you’re giving something back to your community.
Prior to an Event
Always be prepared when you attend a networking event. Bring along plenty of business cards and a small notebook and pen. Make sure you are fully aware of the nature of each particular event and think about what you expect from it. For example, do you want to make new contacts or to strengthen an existing relationship? Remember to ask the host about the dress code, some events may be business formal while others may be more casual. If you know in advance, it will ensure that you feel comfortable within the group.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of your role in business and how you can use your skills to help others. In order to get referrals, you must be able to articulate what you can do for the other people at your networking meetings. Also take some time to think about what you are looking for, and how people you meet may be able to help you.
During an Event
It’s best to arrive a little early when the group of attendees is still relatively small. Always enter the room with a smile so that others will find you easy to approach. Don’t isolate yourself among just the people you know; mingle and greet other attendees. When you meet a person for the first time, shake their hand. As you are talking to them, listen attentively and sum up your personal details succinctly. Make sure you say their name several times during the course of your conversation, this will help you hold their attention and to remember their names. Ask questions that will help you evaluate whether the person will be a useful contact for you and you for them. Try to spend no more than ten minutes talking to each person, this will give you time to circulate the room. Exchange business cards and take notes after you have finished talking to help you remember what each person has said.
After an Event
If you have collected a number of business cards from the networking event, make sure that you follow up with each person within 48 hours; otherwise, your new contacts are likely to forget who you are. If you want to strengthen your newly-forged relationships, call the individual and invite them to lunch. As you add future networking events, add some time in afterward in case you want to have a follow-up meeting with any new or current contacts.
Don’t expect too much too soon. Take plenty of time to establish each relationship through follow-up meetings or communications. If you try to rush or put pressure on contacts, you will lose them, and that may cost you other referrals down the road.
Common Networking Mistakes
Here is a rundown of some common networking pitfalls to avoid:
- A lack of professionalism: Spend some time improving your brand image. Take a look at your website and social media platforms and make sure they express your professional persona.
- Too much vagueness: Don’t fall into the trap of not being specific about your skills when you meet new contacts. Make sure they know exactly who you are and what you have to offer.
- A Lack of Patience: Business relationships can be fragile things, particularly in the early stages of formation. Don’t be in a hurry to toss out your pitch. Be patient, and focus on the other person for a while and look for ways in which the two of you can connect.
- A lack of politeness: You may be surprised to know that one of the most common mistakes in networking is forgetting to say thank you. Not expressing your gratitude can present a very negative impression and undermine all your hard work. This is a really simple way to keep things on the positive.
- Insufficient face-to-face contact: While the internet is a convenient way to network, don’t underestimate the value of personal contact.
Are your Networking Skills Adequate?
- Can you broaden the resources you already have?
- Are you involved with networking groups that interest you, and where you can make a contribution?
- Do you go to network meetings prepared?
- Are you confident that you communicate well?
- Do you follow up with new contacts within the first 48 hours?
If you answered no to three or more of these questions, you probably need to develop more effective networking skills. Consider how you can broaden your resources by finding out about different networking groups in your area.
Make sure you attend meetings equipped with your business cards and bring your passion and enthusiasm to the table. Be open to possibilities regarding what you get from the meeting. Don’t forget to follow up with contacts within the first 48 hours; or they are most likely to forget you.