When I started Roundpeg, my friends told me I needed to go out and make business connections. “Networking,” they said, “is the key to success.”
Well I have to be honest, I had no idea how to go about it. Fortunately, I like meeting new people so I discovered networking could be fun. Along the way I learned a few other things as well:
- Many people don’t like networking. While they realize it is important for their business, they really wish someone else would do it for them.
- There are not clear guidelines for networking. Most people go to an event, chat, hand out business cards and go home. They don’t have a plan before, during or after the event.
As a result of these factors, many people walk away thinking networking is a waste of time. That’s really unfortunate. If it’s done well, networking can drive tremendous business opportunities for you.
What Does Good Networking Look Like?
Quality, not quantity – If you run from event to event collecting and distributing hundreds of business cards, you’re missing the point. Networking is a chance to have memorable, personal interactions. Instead of trying to talk to 25 people focus on having several longer conversations. Use the time at the meeting to find the handful of people with whom you want to have a longer conversation. If you are running from mass meeting to mass meeting, you will never have time to build the connections for longer, more in-depth conversations.
Listening more and talking less – Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more effective you can be as you try to make a sale or convert an acquaintance into a referral partner. Instead of running through prepared remarks, focus on questions and listen to the answers. Taking time to learn about a new connection’s business and their customer base will give you clues as to whether they will be a good referral partner for you over time.
Listen for clues about the non-business topics they are interested in. Business relationships start with the little personal interactions. If you know they like art, sending a link to an upcoming art exhibit is much more likely to be noticed and appreciated than an automated email telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them.
Giving before you get – Good networking conversations won’t necessarily lead immediately to a sale, but they might be the first step toward building an ongoing business relationship. Earn the right to ask for an introduction by being willing to make one first.
Learn to ask people who they want to meet and how you can help. The best networkers do more than ask. They make meaningful introductions. Proving you are willing to invest in building a relationship will earn you the right to ask for those important introductions and referrals when you need them.
Commit to a continuous process – Building contacts and a valuable network requires consistent activity over time. Good networking is not like a one night stand. You can’t show up once and expect people to open their address books for you. You have to demonstrate you are in it for the long haul. Once you do, the relationships you make form the foundation of your business for years.
Want to learn more about networking? Check out our Guide to a Healthy Networking Habit.