Almost all of my business over the past fourteen years has come from networking and referrals. Most likely, I’ve met you at some sort of networking event, or you were referred to me by someone I met that way. Here are a few things that I learned about getting the most enjoyment – and possibly business – from people you meet.
What is networking? Networking is simply adding to the people you know. I would define it very broadly, to include everyone you meet, everywhere. It includes people you meet at events that are specifically promoted as networking or business events, and it also includes meeting people at other non-business related events, such as religious, art, or community organizations.
Pick the right organizations – If you are looking for productive places to network, I suggest being very selective. There are hundreds of groups out there, and each has its own character. I’d consider the following to find groups that will be productive for you:
- Size – is the group large enough to allow you to meet enough new people?
- Attitude – do the members truly try to help and support each other? Or are they competing with each other?
- Membership – are many of the members working in businesses that could be potential clients for you? Potential vendors or collaborators?
- Common Interests – are your personal or professional interests shared by members of the organization? It’s much easier to make a connection if you have an easy topic to talk about.
- Format – does the meeting format encourage you to meet and mingle with a lot of people? If networking time is at the beginning of the meeting, do you get there early enough to meet some new people?
Meet people – Remember the point of networking is to meet new people. My tendency is to want to visit with my old friends at networking meetings, which is valuable (building relationships), but it’s also important to meet new people. When I get shy and resistant about greeting strangers, I try to take on the role of a host. Often the new person is a little bit shy, and they welcome someone greeting them with “Hello! I’m glad you’re here. Tell me about yourself.”
Get involved – The fastest, most powerful way to get good, meaningful connections in an organization is to get involved. Join a committee. Volunteer for something. Put yourself in a position where you really get to know and work with people. For many years, I was on the marketing committee (member and then chair) of an organization I belonged to, and I made life-long friends and solid business connections. It’s always true that what you put into something determines what you get out of it.
Follow up – Once you’ve met someone, don’t just file their business card. Work to make a solid friendship and lasting connection. Connect to new people you meet on LinkedIn. Set up a coffee meeting to get to know them better, and find out how you can help them. Refer them to other people they might be able to work with. Invite them to other events where they can meet more people.
Set up a stay in touch system – This newsletter has been very effective in reaching people I met networking years ago. Ask the new people you meet if they’d like to be on your list, and then send them useful (or entertaining) information, regularly enough that they remember you when they have a need for the services or products you provide.
Help people – When you get to know people, you’ll learn what kind of help they need. Maybe they’re looking for new customers, or help with bookkeeping, or a particular type of service. Being a go-to person for referrals or other kinds of advice always pays off. This does not mean working for them for free – but setting the foundation so that when they do need your services, they’ll think of you.
I know this to be true. As friend and client Darlene Ellison (http://darleneellison.com/) always says in one of my favorite networking organizations (Lakewood Area Women in Business): Make friends first, and the business will follow.