Networking can do great things for us on several levels. It can land jobs, bring consulting work, create political opportunities, build friendships, and introduce future spouses. We fool ourselves into thinking that talent, education, and experience bring success, when the probable truth is that success is partly luck and mostly whom you know. We can’t do anything about the luck, but we can take concrete action to grow a list of effective contacts. Here are nineteen tips on how to make the all-important connections that will help improve the quality of your professional life and personal relationships:
1: Attend Networking Events.
Many chambers of commerce and other organizations sponsor periodic networking events, and if you are serious about improving your connectedness, you should attend them on a regular basis. Often, these events come in the form of happy hours, luncheons, or cocktail parties. In addition, libraries schedule presentations, art galleries hold exhibitions, nonprofit companies plan celebrations, and bookstores invite writers to speak. Tap into as many events as fit your schedule.
2: Attend At Least One Networking Event Per Week.
If you make one appearance per week and obtain five business cards each time, you will have made 250 contacts in a year. In four years, that totals 1000, but that figure doesn’t describe the true number, which includes the expansion of your contact list through following up with each person and perusing social-media websites on the Internet.
3: Don’t Forget Your Business Cards.
Running out of business cards is an unpardonable sin. You should always keep extra ones in your car. Present your card to new acquaintances as soon as possible after you meet. If you wait, you run the risk of losing the opportunity to firm up the encounter. If the other person doesn’t have a card, use the back of one of yours to record the information.
4: Introduce Yourself By Name.
As you shake hands, state your name clearly and pay close attention to the other person’s name. “It’s nice to meet you” is not nearly so powerful as an exchange of names.
5: Hang Around The Entrance.
Position yourself near the room’s entrance. Become part of the action, and you will have opportunities not only to meet more people, but also to introduce folks to one another, a courtesy that will increase your importance in the eyes of others and help grow your network.
6: Practice A Sales Pitch.
All good sales reps know that memorizing a sales pitch helps you present yourself more professionally. Write down what you will say to describe yourself and what you do, and try to consolidate it into two or three clear sentences.
7: Seek People Who Are Alone.
People who attend events alone are usually anxious to meet anyone who smiles and talks to them. It’s easy to approach them, and if you start a conversation, you attain an advantage over anyone who joins you later. It’s far easier to sit at a nearly empty table than to break into an already-established group.
8: Smile And Make Eye Contact.
You should smile and make direct eye contact with every person you greet. Some politicians do not follow this rule, and I’ve often wondered how many votes they lose by looking away just as they shake someone’s hand.
9: Ask Questions About The Other Person’s Business And Life.
As you develop your conversation skills, you will discover that one of the most important tools at your disposal is the asking of questions. You won’t get far in the networking world if you wait for others to create topics for conversation. Be aggressive with your queries, and don’t become overly concerned about being perceived as nosey or prying. For a full presentation regarding how to improve your conversation abilities, review my ten tips for improving your conversation skills.
10: Set A Goal For The Number Of Contacts You Want To Make At Each Event.
I suggest striving to collect five business cards at each gathering. It’s possible to accumulate more than that, but you won’t be able to get cards from everyone you speak to, and spending quality time with each person is far better than appearing flighty and superficial.
11: Keep Moving From Person To Person.
Smoothly and courtesy breaking away from a conversation is an art. It usually works to say something like, “I’ve enjoyed talking to you,” or “I’ll send you an email message to initiate contact,” but sometimes those statements don’t quite do the trick. If you are desperate, you can declare that you have to talk to someone across the room or that you need to go to the restroom. You should disengage and move on every ten minutes or so.
12: Send A Follow-Up Message.
Email capability makes following up with new contacts easier than ever. In the past, letters and telephone calls were the only options, and employing those methods seemed awkward or pushy. Now, access to email messaging makes following up less intrusive and more natural.
13: Check The Social-Media Websites For Information About Your New Contacts.
Depending on the rules of the website, you may decide to send an invitation to link with you or simply gather additional data about your new acquaintances. If you look at the social-media profiles, you may learn a great deal more than that which you gleaned from the initial conversations. Be sure to check the sites for other names that you recognize or that appear repeatedly. This can be surprisingly fruitful, and over time, you will find your network looking more like an interconnected web than linear.
14: Check Out Your New Contacts’ Websites.
Look at your contacts’ business cards and their social-media profiles for additional website addresses. These websites can provide insight into how you can develop your new relationship. Additionally, if you have your own website, you may want to request a link exchange, which will benefit your site and give you an added opportunity to communicate.
15: Remember That Your Networking Efforts Are Long-Term.
Networking requires a sustained effort. You may see positive results in only a few months, but more likely, the payoff will take years to realize. The true players in any community have been at the networking game for decades.
16: Create Something Of Value To Send To Your Contacts.
To keep your contacts list alive, periodically send something of value to everyone on it. Make a habit of posting on the social-media websites once a week. This effort can consist of a link to an interesting article, an announcement about something new in your business, a photograph, or a simple hello to let everyone know you’re still around.
17: Take Photos.
Photographs help you remember names and faces of new acquaintances, but you must know when and how to take them. Executed properly, taking photos contributes to establishing relationships, and photographs make great gifts to send to people as attachments to follow-up messages.
18: Become An Officer Of A Civic Organization.
Another way to be noticed is to become the president of an influential organization. This sometimes takes years of working behind the scenes to gain credibility, but the effort can pay off in a big way. Standing up in front of a crowd to run a meeting is far more effective than working the room to gather business cards. People will want to meet you, and you’ll be the one receiving the follow-up messages from those who would like to have you in their contact networks.
19: Hold Your Own Networking Events.
Once you’ve gained traction in the community, you can offer your home as the venue for meetings. Many organizations have boards of directors or committees that need places to meet and organizers to take care of the logistics. With a little work, you can become known by the folks who comprise the core groups of such organizations. Another possibility is to open your home to political candidates who want to speak to small groups of potential voters.
If you do the things on this list with energy and consistency, you will find your network growing into a powerful tool that will help you in myriad ways. It takes time, planning, and effort, but if you do it correctly, you will reap enormous benefits.