12 Most Nifty Networking Tips
When I was working in the fundraising industry, I hated networking. Strong word, but 100% true. I knew, with absolute certainty, everyone in that room thought I was there to ask them for money, to volunteer, or worse — to sell tickets to the next event. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the minute I was asked to attend a networking event, my head ached, my knees shook and my confidence waned.
A funny thing happened when I started my own business as a social media consultant: I liked networking! Suddenly, I saw that people were interested in talking to me. They wanted to know about my business. And if I asked them questions about theirs, we could talk about more than the weather or the latest sports games.
In the first 18 months of being in business, I attended every free networking event to be had in this city. I knew I could walk into any event in town and find someone I knew to talk to. Networking became enjoyable. It allowed me to help clients and colleagues because I was finding out about all the new businesses in town and building relationships with the entrepreneurs in the room.
If you’re stuck in the “I hate networking” phase, here are some tips to get you over the hill to where the grass really is greener.
1. Help others first
Yes, really. Learn more about the other people in the room rather than trying to educate them about you. That will come, I promise. Give referrals and information freely and without expectation of immediate reciprocity. If you are seen as a helpful person, when it is appropriate people will want to help you, too. It also takes the pressure off… you’re not trying to “sell” anyone. And it makes everyone feel good when someone is genuinely helpful.
2. Take business cards
Yes, it really does need to be on the list. I met many people along the way that didn’t have business cards with them. Very few people here are using apps like Bump to collect contact info, so how do you expect me to remember you when I get home?
3. Have nice business cards
I recently received a business card from a graphic designer that was home-printed on perforated business cards and included a QR Code that did not scan. How much business do you think I will be sending to that person? My most recent iteration of cards were the luxe ones from Moo.com. They always get a second look and great feedback. It’s worth the investment to make your cards stand out from the box. Speaking of boxes, make sure you keep them in a card keeper, or a safe spot so they don’t get scratched, soiled, bent or ripped. Nothing says “attention to detail” like a well-worn card… NOT.
4. Set a goal
No matter what type of networking event it is, you should have a goal. Whether that goal is to meet three new people or to hand out your card to 10, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have a goal. A great goal for newbies is to find two people to meet again later (for coffee, or business). This is how you start building those relationships.
5. Take notes
No, I don’t mean you need to write everything they say down in a notebook. If you discuss sending them a referral or article, write that on the back of the business card. Indicate on cards what event you met them at… this makes it easier for a busy networker to connect again online when you can say, “We met a the Chamber of Commerce event last week. I’d like to add you to my professional network.”
6. Give good introductions
When a contact you know joins your group, introduce her by qualifying what she does. “Jim, Jane, this is Sally, she’s a fabulous graphic designer who focuses on working with environmental groups and green companies. Sally, this is Jim from PETA and Jane from Organic Soap Company. I think you guys will have a lot in common!” Set up the new person for success! Give her a way into the conversation and people will thank you.
7. Don’t judge a book
You never know where that next referral is going to come from. Don’t assume that the financial advisor across the room is irrelevant to you… he may not need your help, but his clients, colleagues or other contacts might.
8. Ask permission
Think that Jane would be a great connection for Jim? Ask Jane if she would like to be introduced, don’t assume. This gives her a chance to say whether or not Jim’s business is a good fit. Think Jim would enjoy reading your e-mail newsletter about organic dog food? Ask first. Note his answer on his business card so you can remember when you get home who said yes, and who said no.
9. Nametags on the right
Whether it’s a stick-on you got at registration or a clip on, branded version, always wear your name tag on the right side. Wondering why? Pretend to shake hands with someone… when you stick out your right hand, you turn your body. The right side goes towards the person and the left away. If your name is on the left it’s harder to see when you’re shaking hands. And for goodness sake, make sure those handwritten tags are legible!
10. Keep your business cards in an easy-to-access spot
A suit coat pocket is perfect… your cards on the right, collected cards on the left. Easy to grab when needed and easy to keep separate, avoiding that awkward moment when you have to shuffle through a pile of cards to find your own.
11. Be choosy about which events you attend
Networking groups are growing like weeds here. There are so many regular networking events that attending them all could be a full-time job. It’s good to check out events once or twice to see if it’s a good fit for you, your personality and your business, but not every event is. A woman’s networking event isn’t going to work for a male-centric tailor. An import/export consultant may not want to attend the “buy local” networking event. You will eventually find some events reap more benefits than others and can plan to attend them while working through the other ones.
12. Follow up
As soon as I get home from a networking meeting, I look up my new contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and connect with them. If we agreed to meet for coffee, I send a message right away to begin setting that up. If I’ve promised them information or a referral, I take care of that quickly before I forget. If you have trouble remembering what you’ve promised to whom, write notes on the back of their business card when you receive it.
You’ll notice that not one of these tips included give multiple business cards to everyone in the room, continuously scan the room for a better contact to chat with, only talk about yourself or make sexist jokes. I’ve seen it all, from the person who literally walked around the room and silently handed everyone a card, then left, to the person who makes you feel like they cannot wait to talk to someone who is going to buy from them. Good networking begins and ends with being helpful to others. The rest will follow.
Featured image courtesy of miiko23 licensed via Creative Commons.