For some of us, the very thought of networking with strangers for an hour might be just enough to make our skin crawl. Despite the uneasiness we may experience connecting with other professionals, experts tell us that embracing the awkward feelings pays off. A recent Gallup study indicates that those who know how to build meaningful relationships make highly successful entrepreneurs.
Learning how to network effectively can help you find like-minded individuals with whom you can exchange ideas, develop successful partnerships and collaboratively grow your business. If you’re not sure how to go about networking, check out these five tips.
Make A Game Plan
For entrepreneurs, free time is a rare commodity. In order to make the most of your time and effort, start by devising a plan. Figure out what connections need to be made to take your business to the next level. Perhaps an industry-focused conference will meet your networking needs, or maybe a monthly networking event for small business owners is more your style—whatever you decide, make time to commit to the events by blocking out time on your calendar.
Do Your Homework
Spend time thinking about your current business goals and objectives and how the people you meet may aid in your efforts. Networking isn’t just a one-way street, so spend time thinking about how you may be able to help others achieve their business goals as well.
First Impressions Matter
The old adage, “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression” holds especially true in the art of networking. So much work goes into selecting and preparing for the right networking event, don’t blow it by making a lousy first impression.
Present yourself with confidence as you talk with others, but remember to be yourself (a networking event is not the time to bore someone with a 15-minute elevator speech about your company). Conversation should flow naturally, as if you were talking with an old friend. Keep in mind that effective networkers do just as much listening as they do talking. You don’t want the person you’re conversing with to get the impression that you’re just there for your benefit.
Focus On Quality Over Quantity
You’ve probably seen the people that run around having one to two minute conversations with everyone just so they can collect business cards for their email database—don’t be this person. With networking, quality connections far outweigh piles of business cards for people you’ll never speak to again.
Successful connections from your last networking event will quickly turn into solid relationships if you follow up correctly. As soon as you return from a networking event, jot down some quick notes. Important or specific tidbits you can recall and talk about in later conversations add a nice personal touch and make the person feel valued. Make sure to exchange contact information at the event and send a follow up email or LinkedIn message soon after the event.
Keep the conversation going by communicating with your connections frequently, a quick email every now and then keeps the conversation warm. Look for ways to be a beneficial partner in your new relationship by passing a potential client their way or by reaching out when you have a new idea for their business.
Done right, networking can be the foundation to many fruitful business relationships. Force yourself to get out of your comfort zone and learn how to effectively network—you may stumble upon your next business partner.
Pierre Drescher, founder, The Creative Loft
Co-founder of The Creative Loft, which he designed and launched as an online employment solution targeting niche creative industries. He helped analyze and refine the marketing strategy, SEO efforts, and partnerships to grow the site to 30,000 visitors per month and over 20,000 registered users.
An entrepreneurial minded professional with broad international experience and strong technical abilities. Pierre is a native French and English speaker, fluent in Spanish. He is also very experienced in web development, SEO, product design and project management.