I know many of you out there HATE the thought of having to network. I bet some of you might have even gotten to the door of an event and literally turned around and headed back home? I’m also willing to bet there are some of you out there, like me, that actually look forward to networking events? Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or even an ambivert – that’s actually a thing, ambivalent are those who fall relatively in the middle of being introverted and extroverted, it’s almost like being ambidextrous, but with your personality…whatever your personality type, we can all probably agree that networking to grow your business (or professional career) is important. We’re here to give you some simple tips on how to make it less painful (for those of you that dread it) and more beneficial (for all). Your time, money and energy are valuable – networking can and should be both fun and provide a solid ROI at the same time!
Let’s start at the beginning, peel back the layers of this onion and get right to the heart of the topic…what does networking really mean? One definition of networking that is perfect in this context is: to interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career. Pretty simple right?
Go away pain…
If you’re the type of person that is painfully shy, just isn’t super comfortable being in groups of people, or maybe you might find the mere thought of going to a networking event causes you anxiety – here are a few tips on how to alleviate the stress:
1. The Buddy System – How about finding someone to go with? You might be able to find a colleague, a coworker, a friend or even an employee to tag along with you!
2. S.O.S . Ask for Help- Talk to the organizer, director, or someone involved with the event – let them know that you see the potential value in attending their event but be honest about your stress. You are not alone, they’ll understand and they’ll probably be more than happy to help! They might connect you with one of their veteran members or an ambassador in their organization that can introduce you around and sort of stay with you.
3. Practice Relaxation Techniques – Whether you’re skilled at mindfulness practices like breathing techniques or meditation (you can easily search for tips on these) or maybe you just need a glass of wine…find something that helps you relax a bit! I know some great networkers that are comfortable around people and even enjoy events like this but we’re all human and sometimes we’re wound a little tight…even the best of us can benefit by having some tools in our toolbox to help us relax and ease into an event!
Time is money, make it count…
Now for our top 5 tried & true tips on how to use networking to grow your business (or career):
1. Find Your Tribe – The first thing to be mindful of, and something I often recommend to colleagues or clients, is to ‘find your tribe’. I often suggest that it’s best to try before you buy – identify different organizations that might make sense to join and/or to get involved with then see what kinds of events are available for you to attend. Go visit, make sure the people that attend seem like the type of people you can see yourself fitting in with, the events are run in a way that works for your personality and you can see that the investment might provide a return on investment.
2. Show Up – It’s more than just signing up for an event and physically being there. When you’ve invested the time, money and energy to attend…you need to really be present, open and ready to make connections.
3. Be Authentic – I can’t stress this one enough! Don’t be ‘that person’ that shows up to take 10 business cards and give 10 business cards…yucko! We’re all people and I guarantee that if you’re authentic and open, you’ll make some pretty cool connections that turn into lasting relationships. Most people are interesting if you take the time to listen – ask questions and be curious!
Not Everything is Black & White – Something that I believe wholeheartedly to be true is that not everything is a straight line! For instance, you might meet me at an event and just because I might not need your service doesn’t mean I don’t know someone who does or will in the future…
4. Follow Up – You’ve identified different groups and picked events to attend. You’ve attended, been present, authentic, curious, and you’ve made some great new connections…now what? Follow up! We are all different and all have different time management algorithms, habits and so on, right? What works for me might not work the best for you but there is a basic routine you can follow then tweak along the way. Let’s say you get home from an event, you’re energized and you’ve met 5 people that you’d like to stay connected with in hopes that it’ll develop into a lasting relationship of some sort? Maybe you’ll become referral resources for each other or maybe it’s a great potential client for you? Whatever the scenario, here are a few basic tips on follow-up:
5. Enter contact info into your database(s).
– Do a little social research – follow, like or connect!
– Send an email/note – I like to send an email that night or within a couple days myself letting them know ‘why’ I enjoyed meeting them (or seeing them again) and might suggest we meet for coffee, a business meeting, etc…to continue the conversation ?
– Then stay in front of them with email campaigns, social shares/likes/favorites or retweets.
I try to go to any event with the mindset that I’ll probably run into someone that I maybe haven’t seen in awhile (yay) and that I’ll probably meet at least a couple/few people that I’ll authentically connect with – I know it also helps that I truly like people (most anyway) and find business in general fascinating. I get that I might not be the norm, but I do know that many of these tips have helped dozens of friends and colleagues ease into networking and make it beneficial in their businesses. I hope you’ll find a take-away here and that you’re future networking events are stress-free and bountiful!