Is it an outgoing, charismatic personality or maybe it's experience or practicing proper networking etiquette. While those aspects are all helpful, the key to being a successful networker is understanding that networking is mutual and not a one-way exchange.
According to Rita B. Allen, Career Management Consultant and President of Rita B. Allen Associates, networking is all about building meaningful and long lasting relationships and what you do with those business cards. Fewer and deep is better than a database of contacts you don't keep up with. Allen describes networking like planting seeds in the garden, nurturing it, and seeing it blossom. Many see networking as insincere, so the focus should be on building a mutually beneficial relationship and not just collecting as many business cards as possible. Allen suggests "be real and do what works for you."
Linda Moraski, President/CEO of PeopleSERVE, Inc., stated there?s numerous benefits to networking, whether it is for business, finding a vendor or service provider, or finding a job. As Allen mentioned, it's not about who you know but who knows you. Having a good network is critical in business.
Being active in social media is important but getting out there and meeting people face-to-face is equally important. Writing, speaking, and teaching are other ways to broaden one's network. Going to an event and networking can be intimidating for some, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you will get with working a room.
For those that are new to networking, practice your message about who you are and what you have to offer.
Allen stated that those new to networking are not always clear about their brand. Develop a strategic plan on how you will build your network and start attending events. When meeting someone for the first time, look to identify similarities and interests. Make notes about the person on the back of their business card, and then follow up with a personal note. A hand written note makes a lasting impression but email is also appropriate.
Good places to start networking include chambers of commerce, business associations, support groups such as women's groups, professional associations, alumni associations, and charitable events. Rebecca Sullivan, PR Consultant and Principal of Rebecca Sullivan Public Relations, likes to diversify the events she attends and said "if you only attend events in your own industry, you may end up only meeting the same people over and over again." Also, get involved in various organizations to the extent your schedule permits. Joining a committee is a great way to get to know others and for others to get to know you.
And don't forget about internal networking within one's workplace and other referral sources. That is very important, as people often refer business to those they know and trust. Even the competition can be a referral source, especially if they have a different niche than you. The more involved you are with your network, the likelihood of learning about new business opportunities increases; and if you refer business to others, they may reciprocate.
Staying connected with your network is very important and there are various ways to do so. If you come across an article that you know would be of interest to someone, send it to them. Perhaps there is an event that may be of interest - send a personal invitation. If you learn of a contact's accomplishment, congratulate them. Be genuine, always be willing to help others, and go the extra mile. Others will appreciate it and may return the favor someday, but that should not drive your motivation to help others. Sullivan, Allen, and Moraski all credit referrals from their networks as an important contributing factor to their businesses being so successful.
Tips for Attending Events:
- Eat before the event - it is difficult to speak to someone if you are chewing food.
- Dress appropriately for the event - first impressions are very important.
- Don't go asking for business - that's a major turnoff. Instead, go to meet people and build the relationship.
- Go with a friend or colleague if you are uncomfortable by yourself, and plan to meet 3 new people.
- If two or more people are engaged in a deep conversation, don't interrupt.
- Don't overwhelm yourself and try to attend too many events.
- Don't forget to follow up with a personal note.
- As Moraski stated "practice, practice, practice and don't give up!"
- Be genuine in your intentions.
- If you follow up with someone via LinkedIn, add a personal note - don't just use the standard language,
- It should be clear that there is a mutual reason to stay in touch.
- Know when to quit, don't be a stalker, and don't wear out one's welcome.
Ellen Keiley is a Boston World Partnerships Connector and a member of the Business Development Department at K&L Gates in Boston. She can be contacted at ellen.keiley@ klgates. com
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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