When I was first self-employed I was terrified of networking and would sabotage my own opportunities to meet people by planting myself firmly beside the one person I knew and not moving. I learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t working for me so I went completely in the other direction. I took on a “gotta catch ‘em all” attitude to meeting people and exchanging business cards. It took me some more time but I figured out that thinking like that wasn’t doing anything for me or my business and that there’s more to it than that.
Networking isn’t about frantically gathering business cards as quickly as you can and then calling up your new “contacts” for a favor or two. It’s about establishing mutually beneficial relationships – and to do that, you have to do more than rush yourself through a conversation to move on to the next one.
My network now consists of 1000’s of people. It’s taken years, patience, and practice to get here but the importance that my network has to me both personally and professionally is greater than I initially understood. Here are some tips that I’ve used over the years to help me connect with people I didn’t always know and who are now a valuable part of that circle.
- Being strategic about the people you meet is more important than attempting to strike up a rapport with anybody who comes across your path. But don’t limit yourself to only those people more senior than you – meeting professionals at every level and across industries is critical to truly diversify your network.
- Networking isn’t about making a sale. Don’t try to impress people with your expertise or title. Enter into a conversation asking open-ended questions about that person and focus on listening carefully to what they respond. You’re bound to find some similarities that will help your relationship grow with time.
- Make the most of your networking memberships. It’s one thing to become a member but that membership isn’t going to do the work for you. Attend networking events regularly – the more you attend the easier it becomes. One of my most worthwhile memberships is with the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber works diligently to deliver a variety of networking opportunities that connect different people across different sectors. You never know who you’re going to meet at a Chamber event so make sure to get out there and take advantage of your membership!
- Be memorable. Attend network events prepared for conversation. Whether it’s a great story, your (politically correct) take on a current event, or chit chat over something you have in common with somebody, don’t forget to smile, be engaged and communicate effectively. Leaving a lasting impression will keep the conversation going the next time you bump into that person.
- Get out of the comfort zone. Understand that most people at networking events have at one point been in your shoes. Push yourself with goals and put yourself in front people that you want to be introduced to. The more you do this, the more this becomes your comfort zone.
- Pay it forward every chance you get. Networking has to be a two way street. The more you invest in your network the more your network will invest in you. Take calls, respond to emails and offer to help if you can. This creates and maintains stronger bonds with people.
- Have fun! Nobody likes talking to somebody who is negative or who takes life too seriously at a networking event. Bring the fun and the fun will follow. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by people who enjoy a good time when you choose to bring the fun.
- End all conversations gracefully. Ask for a business card. Make eye contact. Shake hands. Ending on a high note opens the door to future conversations with that person.
These are a few of the things I have learned over the years that have helped me to make the most out of networking and turn it into something I really enjoy. Please share tips you have used to up your networking game!