When it comes to networking, there are generally two camps: those who live for it and those who loathe it. If you’re in the first group, chances are you already have your game on. If you’re a networking hater, here are ten quick tips to make you more comfortable and more successful.
1. Change Your Mindset
When meeting people, think not “What can I get?” but “What can I give?” This one little mind flip can make a huge difference. Instead of being nervous about seeming needy and greedy, you feel confident because of what you can offer and how you can help. It really changes everything about the networking process.
2. Ditch the Pitch
Networking is about building relationships; selling is only a tiny aspect of networking, and it comes way down the list. There’s far less pressure when the discussion is light and informal-remember, you’re just getting to know someone, not selling them. The goal is to engage in conversation to lay a foundation for a friendship. People are much more likely to recommend or do business with others they know and like.
3. Later, Pitch Like a Pro
That said, if and when the opportunity rolls around and someone asks about your product or service, be ready! Give them the Cliffs Notes version of what you do and what’s so special about you. Keep it short (probably 90 seconds max), and just touch on the highlights of your company. Share your passion and commitment; networking is about the people behind the product, so focus on why someone would want to do business with you. Practice until you can do it without sounding canned, forced or unnatural.
4. Listen More Than You Talk
Legendary host Larry King famously said, “I never learned anything while I was talking.” How will you know what you can do for someone if you’re the one doing all the talking? You can’t. So ask questions and be genuinely interested in the answers. Then, ask more questions and continue to glean information. That’s how you form the best personal relationships that lead to strong business partnerships.
5. Pick the Right Crowd
It’s a lot easier to be personable when you feel comfortable, so choose your opportunities carefully and start where you’ll most easily fit in. Figure out if you’d feel more at home in a social environment, something revolving around community service, a conference, class, or a professional development environment. After you get your feet wet and get some practice, you can diversify the groups you meet and events you attend.
6. Every Day Networking
You don’t need to wait for some big event in order to network; be on the lookout for opportunities to meet and talk to people. Every chat you have with someone is a chance to learn something new. Every new person you talk to is someone you can help and a potential future resource for you. It all goes back to the mindset we started with. If you’re coming from a position of giving instead of taking, it’s much easier!
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Just do it. And do it again. The more you network, the easier it will be, and the better you’ll get at it. Before you know it, networking behavior will become second nature. You’ll gain confidence along with new connections, both of which will help you gain business.
8. It’s Not a Competition
Even at events filled mostly with people in your own industry, networking opportunities abound. There’s no better place to get and share advice, learn from others’ success and failures, and bounce ideas off of peers. Networking within your field also opens a wide possibility for referrals.
9. Follow Up
Networking doesn’t stop when you get that business card or email address; in fact, it only starts there. If you toss the cards in a desk drawer and forget about them, you may as well not have taken them in the first place. Within a couple of days after meeting someone, add the person to your contact list with as much information about them as possible. Add them to your LinkedIn network. Think of a simple way you can help them out, or an introduction you might make for them, and then call or send an email. Take the time and make the effort to connect on a regular basis. See the next tip for more on how.
10. Don’t Neglect the Network You Already Have
You may have noticed in your personal life how easy it can be to take your existing relationships for granted. The same is true in business. Take the time to show a little love to the people who helped get you where you already are. How? Send a thank-you email. Forward an interesting article or link. Make a date for lunch or coffee to get caught up. Introduce them to someone they should know but don’t. Not only will your business benefit, you’ll likely enjoy the interaction just as much as they do.