The ability to network is not necessarily an innate quality. It is simply the process of developing mutually gratifying relationships with like-minded people and businesses. It is a skill that can be learned, honed, and developed with practice. Networking is a marketing tool—crucial to the success of you and your business that can take a variety of different forms. From face-to-face business conferences to less formal coffee or after-work drinks meetings. There are also a wide variety of online and social networking methods, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blogs, which are commonly used today.
Networking can open many windows and doors to anyone at any stage of their career. Meeting and talking to the right people can earn you free advice, awareness of you and your company, word-of-mouth referrals, and if done correctly, networking has the potential to gain you credibility, trust, professionalism, knowledge, and expertise.
Although networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it has become a necessary tool for success in the business world. For most introverts, having to network can seem like pulling teeth, and by contrast, for extroverts, their over-confidence and lack of a filter can, unfortunately, get the best of them. Regardless of how you define your personality, there are things you can do to improve your networking skills and start building those professional relationships.
Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when you venture into networking.
Relax and get rid of the pressure.
How you relax may be different from how others relax. Whether you meditate, take a deep breath, have a quick drink before an event, get extra prepared, or bring someone with you to network alongside, getting rid of any pressure you may feel is the number-one way to stay calm and have fun networking.
Put your best foot forward.
There is no benefit in sitting in the corner by yourself. Don’t be afraid to say hello to the people around you. The chances are that they are just as nervous as you. Introverts do not connect with people the same way extroverts do, so they shouldn’t try to match each other’s networking styles. It’s important to be comfortable and confident in reaching out to others in a way most comfortable to you, so you always put your best foot forward.
Prepare with good questions to ask.
Anticipate the kind of people you are likely to meet and think about what you would like to ask and learn from them. If there is ever an awkward silence, or you have a moment where you forget how to act naturally because you’re nervous, just ask a question you have practiced beforehand. It will help keep the conversation going, and no one will be the wiser.
Pay close attention to the small stuff.
If someone tells you something they find interesting, remember what it is. These small connections come in handy when you connect with that person again—the more personal the connection you make, the better.
Remember quality over quantity.
Who you’re networking with is much more important than how many people you talk to at an event. You want to focus on the quality of your connections as opposed to the quantity, and as you do, you’ll find that you become a better networker because you’re able to focus on what matters. When speaking to a new connection, be quick, concise, and accurate when describing your business—ensure you engage your listener from the get-go and make it memorable.
Have a memorable business card.
It sounds easy enough, but your business card can help in a networking situation. Make sure you have more than enough with you to hand out—business cards are a great way to exchange details and allow you a way to reconnect in the future. How you design your card is up to you, but take it seriously. Use fonts and colors that represent your business. One great tip is to jot down the time and place you met on the back of your card to remind your new business contact where the connection formed.
Always keep in touch after an event.
Make an effort to keep in touch whenever possible. If your social connections alert you that it is someone’s birthday, send a quick message. If you read something that reminds you of someone, tag them in a status update on your social accounts. Keep in mind that the more you keep in touch with a contact, the better your interaction will be the next time you see them in person.
Sometimes it isn’t about how you network—it’s simply about doing it regularly. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there to connect with others, formally and informally, for more success.
Don’t be timid. While it isn’t always comfortable, put yourself out there and mingle and engage with others. The more you do, the less timid you will become.
Don’t only speak to one person—but don’t speak to so many that you are sacrificing quality conversations.
Don’t be overzealous with self-promotion—this tactic is more likely to annoy than build valuable relationships.
Don’t forget to follow up —this is so important it’s worth mentioning again. To benefit from any connections that you’ve made, following up after is a crucial step in the networking process.
Don’t waste your time. If you are making an effort to get to a networking event, be sure to utilize that time and optimize your conversations.
At its best, networking isn’t about taking—it’s about giving. Think about what you have to offer to the people you know and people you’d like to know. Once you can effectively keep up with your entire network, you can focus even more on giving. And don’t forget—send thank you notes, handwritten as often as possible, to anyone who helps you in any way.