Networking is an essential in the business world. While you can be successful without making networking your second career, it is virtually impossible to be successful in business, especially if you have customers of any kind (and what business doesn’t?) if you don’t network. Becoming a successful networker doesn’t take any special skills or talent, and it isn’t limited to extroverts. Yes, even introverts can be successful networkers. How do I know? I am one. And I’ve actually learned to enjoy networking.
Before you tell me that you don’t network, keep in mind that networking is just business-speak for getting to know other people in a professional context. In other words, it’s an opportunity to make “work friends.” It’s also a time-tested way to find new customers, new employees, a new job, new suppliers, and a support network. All things that will contribute to your success and your enjoyment of your business life.
It isn’t that hard to be a successful networker. Here are just a few of the things to think about before, during and after networking events that can help you succeed at networking.
Things to Do Before a Networking Event
Determine what types of networking events fit with your objectives and with your comfort level. While it’s good to step slightly beyond your comfort level, choosing to attend events that don’t jibe with the way you want to do business or with the way you are comfortable interacting with people, will not help you be a successful networker. For example, if you’re a person who is not comfortable visiting bars or doing happy hour hangouts, don’t add those types of networking events to your list.
If you absolutely hate listening to lectures or attending trade shows, those are probably not the right networking venues for you.
At the same time, consider alternative networking opportunities. Volunteering for a community event, attending a class or workshop, or joining a club that aligns with your personal or professional interests can also provide great networking opportunities.
Decide what your goals are for the event. Are you hoping to connect with specific people? Are you hoping to connect with specific industries? Are you hoping to learn something? Knowing what you want to do and who you want to talk to can help you focus and be a more successful networker.
Things to Do During a Networking Event
Decide that you will enjoy the event. Networking isn’t always easy, even for the more outgoing among us. Your attitude will telegraph to the people around you and a positive attitude is always more attractive than a negative one.
Listen more than you talk. Have a few key questions you can ask people you meet that will help you get to know them, what they do and whether they are a good contact for you.
Talk to people outside of your circle. While it’s nice to attend networking events with people you know, the point of a networking event is to meet new people.
Bring your current business cards. Yes, even in the digital age, they are still a thing.
Be prepared to make notes, whether it’s jotting info on a business card, using a note-taking app in your phone, or carrying a pen and pad.
Limit your alcohol intake. Even if you’re attending a happy-hour type event, plan on consuming only one alcoholic beverage. You don’t want to appear tipsy—or worse yet, be tipsy—while trying to build your business.
Things to Do After a Networking Event
Follow up with the people you met at the event.
Get to know the people you networked with. Visit their website and social media profiles. You can use this information to help start and build a conversation and working relationship.
Send a personalized note (handwritten if you can) with an invitation to connect further within a day or two after the event. Be brief in your correspondence, but make sure it doesn’t look like a form letter.
Consider connecting on LinkedIn. For business connections, LinkedIn is the ideal platform. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are not as business-oriented and will rarely be your first choice.
Follow up with meaningful conversation and interaction. Would they like to meet for a one-on-one? Is there someone you can connect them with? An event you can invite them to? An article or website you can share that would be directly relevant to them? Always give before taking.
Things Not To Do After a Networking Event
Do not ignore people you met at the event. Don’t wait too long to follow up. More than a week is definitely too long, and they may have forgotten you at that point.
Do not add people to your mailing list just because they were at an event with you. Doing so is a violation of the CAN-SPAM act, and is entirely spammy and classless.
Do not connect with people just because you have a business card from them or their name was on the guest list. It reeks of spam. Follow-up connections should be limited to those people with whom you actually conversed at the event.
Don’t be pushy. If you are able to secure another meeting, it is NOT a sales meeting. It should be for relationship building. If they choose not to respond to your connection request, or decline further contact, or you are not a good fit for each other, step away quietly and move on.
Don’t tag fellow attendees in a post or engage in a public “shout out” unless you have already established a relationship. Thanking a speaker or event organizer via social media (in addition to a personal thanks) is acceptable. Randomly tagging other attendees to get their attention is not.
Now that you know all the things you need to do, it’s time to put them into practice and go be a successful networker. Let me know how it works for you.