You hear that word so often in business. People are looking to build their networks, they go to networking events; they scour certain social media to grow their network. The problem is that just expanding your network alone isn’t really going to help you or your business.
True networking is not about selling. It’s about discovery. It’s about looking for others that you have something in common with and beginning to build a relationship. People want to work and do business with others that they know, like, and trust.
Just meeting people and getting introductions is only part of the process. Running through an event, handing out business cards doesn’t accomplish a true introduction. Let’s be honest, so many of us put those cards in a stack when we get back to the office and don’t really look at them again. Once you meet someone, it’s time to get to know them. Isn’t it?
Most networking experts recommend doing a little prep work before an event or meeting. Find out who else is attending. Look at the organization they work for, what are their networks, and see their connections. Don’t be a stalker, but find out a little about them and decide which people you want to make sure to meet. Remember, you aren’t targeting prospects; you’re looking for collaborations and relationships for the long term.
Once you get to the event, it’s all about conversation and small talk. You want to get to know these people – and they want to get to know you. Listen to their stories, keep things light and friendly, find those common interests that will keep the discussion going. Pleasant conversation is a key way to break the ice at a meeting or interview and establish a genuine human connection with these strangers. It is the very way that we make those connections that could lead to deeper conversations. Small Talk isn’t easy for everyone, but it is the best way to begin to build a rapport with people.
Naturally, if someone does ask about your business – TALK about it, don’t sell it. Show your enthusiasm for recent accomplishments or new products, but don’t turn it in to a sales pitch. Let the conversation flow by asking about their business. See where collaborations might take place, and use the opportunity to build the relationship.
The most effective way to network is to be willing to give without the expectation to receive. That doesn’t mean to totally give away your products or services or business, but you can be helpful and give advice, volunteer, or offer a referral. As that relationship develops and collaborations grow, you’ll become known as someone who is helpful to others. That is your instant credibility. Richard Lowe, Jr., former manager at Trader Joe’s Company suggests, “Before long, you become known as a giver, and then an influencer. People look to you for answers. Then, when you need something, you ask and people respond. That’s the way it works best.”
Now that the event is over and you’ve started building the relationships, remember the importance of following up with your new connections. Make it a point to stay in touch with them. It can be as simple as dropping them an email, liking or commenting on their posts on social media, or forwarding them something that refers back to your conversation, such as an article or a referral for something they were looking for. Try to do this within the first two days of meeting. Then let the relationship naturally build from there. Hopefully, those you’ve met will start doing the same for you. And you’ll remember each other should a project or opportunity come up that would be applicable to your business.
Networking isn’t about selling. It’s about building meaningful connections for the long term. Done wisely, these collaborations can carry you to new contacts and new networks and new business. You never know where those connections may lead.