Networking is much more than showing up, grabbing free snacks (which are great), and passing out business cards. Networking is about meeting like-minded people, learning about them, sharing who you are, and creating relationships. There are a few tricks to ensure you’re networking strategically to create lasting relationships.
Research the event or group
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started my networking journey was not researching the groups or events. I would attend, enjoy the people, and immediately join without understanding the group fully. It’s important to identify the industries in the group and determine if it’s a good fit for you. While some people may find value in an industry-specific group, it’s also important to make connections outside your industry to help create referrals.
Be aware that not all groups are focused on passing referrals and helping grow each other’s business. Some may be full of individuals who hard sell at every event, while others may be a group of “good ‘ol boys” who hang out without passing referrals.
Researching the group through their website, Facebook page, or even a phone call is beneficial.
Many events offer food, drinks, and sometimes alcohol. I generally like to eat with the people I know so I can create a comfortable environment and maintain connections. Then I begin mingling with people I don’t know.
Studies have shown that people are more likely to talk to you if you have a drink in your hand. If you are like me and choose not to drink alcohol, having a glass of water or coffee in your hand can make you more approachable and casual.
Make it about them
When you meet someone, it’s important to ask them for their business card. If during our conversation I find I can do something to help them, I jot a note on the back of the card to help me remember.
These events are not and should not be about hard selling, but instead should focus on creating relationships and having meaningful conversation. When having a conversation, show interest even if it does not directly benefit you. Let them talk about themselves for 75 percent of the time, then talk about yourself. Listen for clues in their conversation and ask questions. If you hear in the conversation that there is something they could use help with, offer a referral.
In networking and business relationships, the hope is that eventually those referrals will come back to you. Watch out for relationships where you send a lot of referrals to someone who could be helping you through referrals but never does.
Following up is essential. It helps solidify the connection you made and opens the door for referrals. I add my new connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, and sometimes Twitter. This opens a door for conversation and allows us to see each other’s posts on a regular basis.
Once I meet someone at a networking event, I do my best to schedule an in-person meeting, sometimes called a one-on-one. The meeting is usually coffee or lunch, once again allowing them to talk about themselves and searching for ways to help them. This meeting is not only about establishing a connection, but also building a relationship.
In the future, if I contact that person by phone, I always pull up their social media to help me connect the conversation with their face. This is a great trick if you have a terrible memory like I do.