Business networking can seem a whole lot like – well, work! You take care to dress up nicely, pack up some extra business cards, and then nervously head to an event. On the drive there, you talk out loud to yourself, stressing out over how to make yourself sound good while still being humble. When you arrive, you see groups of people already engaged in lively conversation and have no clue where to break in. Networking events feel awkward and high pressure, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some strategies to help you see your next business networking opportunity in a fresh new way.
Why Business Networking MAtters
Effective business networking can help grow sales, make connections on your professional development journey, and build recognition for your personal or business brand. But most importantly, business networking helps you to grow a database of resources who can help you in the future. Moreover, this new database of resources may come to you for help because of your special expertise or connections. This grows deep and meaningful relationships that will serve your career or business well. You can’t help yourself until you help others first!
Why We Aren’t Networking
Networking presents a challenge to busy, demanding schedules. Time and energy constraints can make business networking difficult! After all, who wants to go work through awkward conversations with new people when you could spend that valuable time finishing a task on your mile-long to-do list? Even worse, networking events can seem intimidating. When you believe your time or money could better be spent elsewhere, it can seem like networking events don’t provide an attractive return on investment.
Ways to Better Your Business Networking
The good news is that business networking can in fact have a very healthy return on investment. When you approach networking differently, the results change for the positive. Here are some tips to do that:
- Learn as much as you can about an association before you attend an event. This way, you’ll know a little about the board members and have conversation starters ready to go. You can even reach out to the event organizers to ask if there’s anything you can do to help make their event successful; this helps connect you to the event in a deeper way right from the beginning.
- Look through the registration list in advance, if it’s public, to identify people you’re excited to meet. You can connect with those people on social media before the event day and get the conversation started before you even arrive!
- Consider bringing a friend with you to the event. Having a familiar face on site can reduce stress.
- After the event, follow up! Send a thank you note to the organizers for putting together a successful event. Send emails to the people you met to acknowledge and encourage them in their professional journeys.
Business Networking Pitfalls to Avoid
Even with the best intentions, it can be easy to fall into bad habits at business networking events. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t forget to branch out. It’s natural to be drawn to people you already know. It feels more comfortable! It’s not a bad idea to reconnect with people and deepen those relationships, but make sure you’re also introducing yourself to some new contacts at every networking opportunity.
- Focus on the other person, not on yourself. Ditch the disingenuous elevator pitch and honestly listen to other people. What challenges are they facing in their careers? What wins have they had lately? Ask thoughtful and open-ended questions that show you’re sincerely interested in getting to know other people.
The Biggest Networking Mistake To avoid at all costs
Professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs make a huge mistake when they treat the networking event as complete the moment it wraps up. In truth, the biggest networking advantages begin after the event ends. After the event, split all your new friends into three categories:
- Lead & Referral Sources – Follow up and try to set up another one-on-one meeting!
- Professional Partners – Let them know you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to working together soon.
- Connection Opportunities – There may not be an opportunity to work together directly, but offer to connect them to someone who can help them on their journey. Remember, networking is not all about you.
Following the strategies and avoiding the pitfalls above will help you maximize the time and energy you spend on business networking events. Before you know it, you’ll see synergies growing and exciting new opportunities popping up more than you ever expected!
Video Transcript: How to Take the Work Out of Business Networking
Below is a transcript of the video, “How to Take the Work out of Business Networking,” published March 10, 2020 on YouTube.
Hey there. I’m Don Mamone. I’m a hospitality veteran. I’m an artist. I’m also an entrepreneur. Today we’re going to talk about networking. I know, I know. I can hear your collective groans and sighs all the way over here. I mean it’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Net-working. All jokes aside, I know how much effort it takes. We need to increase your efficiency and maximize your returns. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about what networking is, why we should be doing it, why we might not be doing it. And at the end of this video, I’m going to tell you the one biggest mistake professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs make. So you don’t!
So what type of networking are we talking about anyway? We’re talking about traditional networking. Association meetings, open houses, essentially any special event where you have the opportunity to interact with other professionals in your industry. So why should we be networking anyway? In large part, people network to grow business. They also do it for professional development or brand recognition. But the biggest reason why we should all be networking is you’re building a resource for anything and everything you may need in the future. So with all those wonderful benefits, why wouldn’t we be networking? The one that I hear the most is time and energy constraints, but also, for some people, the idea of being in a networking environment is intimidating. And lastly, like we’ve talked about already, if you’re not feeling like you’re getting a return, why would you dedicate all that time and energy to networking?
If some of these pain points sound familiar to you, it means you’re not networking to the best of your ability. Let’s network smarter not harder. The best thing you can do in order to increase efficiency and maximize return, is create a networking workflow. Don’t show up day of and expect to get great returns, you,ve got to put the work in upfront. Here’s what that looks like. If you’re attending an association event, those are usually larger and hosted by bigger organizations. Familiarize yourself with the association! Check out their website, look at their upcoming events and their goals for the year. Familiarize yourself with their board of directors. If the registration list is public, you can look and see maybe there’s a professional that’s going to be attending you wanted to meet and get to know anyway. And lastly, if you’re one of those people where networking environments creates anxiety or is intimidating to you, consider bringing a friend.
Now, if it’s an open house, these are usually smaller events hosted by companies or individuals. Consider reaching out after you RSVP. Ask the host if there is something you can do to help ensure that their events is a success. If it’s open to the industry, share it on your social media. One of the scariest things we do is host an event in and fear that there’s not going to be enough people in attendance. And then lastly, after the event, send them a thank you note, an actual thank you note for inviting you and telling them that you hope their event was a huge success.
So let’s talk about some networking pitfalls. If you’re one of those people that’s anxious or intimidated in networking environments and you’ve brought someone with you, or if you see people that you know there resist the urge to talk to them all night long, it’s definitely not the best way to get a return on the networking opportunity. You want to meet new people and when you meet those new people, keep in mind you want to focus on them, ask them questions about their business, how they’re doing and how you can support them. Essentially what I’m telling you to do is ditch the elevator pitch it’s disingenuous and I just don’t think people want to hear them anymore.
So earlier I promised you that. I would tell you the one biggest mistake that professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs make when it comes to networking and that is they think that the networking opportunity ends at the end of the event. In truth, the biggest networking opportunity starts when that event is over. At the end of every networking event, I take all the contacts I’ve just made and I separate them into three categories: lead and referral sources, professional partners and connection opportunities. For the lead and referral sources, I immediately follow up with them and I try to set up another meeting, a one-on-one where we can get to know each other better. For the professional partners, I send them a note and tell them how wonderful it was to meet them and I look forward to working with them soon. For the connection opportunities, and this is a big one, it means that we may not have an opportunity to work together directly, but I hope that I can connect them to somebody that can either provide them a service or be their client.
Okay, so there you have it! If you follow this workflow and adhere to this process, you’re going to have to put up just a little bit of work upfront in order to maximize your return on every single networking event you attend. Effectively, every person you meet will have a place in your network because you never know when you’re going to be able to help someone and when they might be able to help you. So do all the things like comment, subscribe, can’t wait to see you again soon.