As mentioned in The Power Of Networking: Why It's More Important Than Advertising & Marketing, networking is extremely essential in business success.
But if you already know and understand the power of networking (and why it's so important), then it's time to move on to the important stuff: HOW to network effectively.
1) Be genuine and be yourself.
That sounds like a no-brainer. But people can easily get caught up in acting like someone they're not when they get around a group of people they don't know very well... whether it's in networking, going to a new party, interviewing for a new job, meeting your new coworkers, cold-selling a product or service, going on a blind date, etc.
But if your intentions are to build relationships, build trust, and grow your sphere of influencers (which you should.... if you truly understand the power of networking), then why would you want to start off on the wrong foot by being fake? If you're intentions are to get to know others and build a relationship with them, how exhausting would it be to act like someone you're not around them for as long as you keep in touch? Make things easier on everyone involved by being yourself from the get-go.
Not to mention, many can spot a "fake" person or personality in an instant. For some, even spotting insincere friendliness or interest is an automatic turn-off --- a.k.a you've pretty much lost your chances of ever building that relationship or connection.
Disclaimer: If your personality isn't one who can easily make friends, is naturally friendly, or sincere, then it might be wise to designate someone else to be the "face" of the company. If networking isn't really your forte or gift, continuing to network could be a disservice to your company's brand. Bad networking and unapproachable personalities can hurt your business more than it can help. Unfortunately, if you're a one-man, freelance business and your personality clashes with someone that people would want to get to know and enjoy building a relationship with, then you'll have to use your judgement on whether or not you should network or just stick to advertising / marketing.
2) Be a good listener... and smile!
Mark Zuckerberg said, "Successful people always have two things on their lips: silence, and a smile." I believe this to be true, because it's amazing to me how few people smile often or are good listeners. Because of this lack, people who smile a lot and listen well tend to be complimented more often, and more easily liked by others. A good smile and listening skills make others want to talk to you, feel drawn to you, and make you a more likable person.
Everyone likes to talk about themselves, even good listeners. It's not childish, it's just reality. We're all selfish human beings to some extent; we like to talk about ourselves, like to feel good about ourselves, like to have attention from others, and like to feel important. This is why it's important to be a good listener when you're networking. When you listen more than you talk, you make the person you are networking with feel those things. You make them feel important.
Nobody wants someone to come up to them and talk and talk and talk all about them and their services and what they can offer. Instead, the smart (and easier) way to network effectively is to listen.... smile.... and....
3) Ask questions.
This goes hand-in-hand with being a good listener. To be a good listener, you must ACTUALLY listen and hear what they have to say. Don't be thinking about what you're going to say next. Don't be thinking about the way they look when they talk or focus on their traits. Don't be thinking about how you can get out of the conversation as quickly as possible. Don't be thinking about how talking to them is a waste of your time. Just listen, and when it's the right moment, thank them for the conversation, say it was nice to meet them and say you're going to continue mixing (meeting) with other people.
......Sorry for getting on a tangent.
But asking questions shows that you are listening to them, that you care what they have to say, and shows genuine interest in them.
Don't just ask them the cliche, small talk questions: What do you do? What does your business provide? Have you been to this event before? Where do you live? Where is your company located? Where did you go to school? What made you want to get in this business?
Also, ask them unexpected questions, which show genuine interest: What do you love most about your job/company? What separates you and your company from your competition? What's the one thing you would do with your business if you knew you could not fail? What do you see as the coming trends in your business? What ways have you found to be most effective and least effective in promoting your business? What do you like to do for fun? Are you involved in any other organization, activity, or networking group? What are your business goals for this year? What are your long term goals?
Don't ask closed-ended questions that can be answered in "yes" or "no." Try to ask questions that are open-ended, broad, or ones that spark more conversation. This is how real relationships are built.
Now, when it's time to end the conversation with your new contact, there's ONE question that is key to leaving the network with a great first impression, and planting a real seed that you can continue to nourish.
THE BEST, ULTIMATE, CONVERSATION-ENDING QUESTION: How can I know if someone I'm speaking to is a good prospect for you?
This shows them that you would like to refer them and their business to others when the conversation arises in your sphere of influencers... and it may spark the interest in them to do the same for you. "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine," but with YOU initiating the scratch (which takes off the weight that you're only doing them a favor because they are doing it for you).
4) Be confident...not cocky.
If there's any size of a "shy bone" in you, it can be easy to feel embarrassed or tense when you go to an event alone, walk up to strangers to start a conversation, or network effectively. Confidence is important for networking effectively, but (without altering your sincerity and coming off as "fake") you can "fake it 'til you make it" when it comes to gaining confidence.
Here are some tips to gaining confidence, without being arrogant, narcissistic, or cocky:
- Have a good posture.
- Having a good posture not only makes you look more confident, but according to mental and psychological studies, it's proven to actually help you feel more confident, too. Don't just have a good posture / stance at networking events, but work on making it a habit for your daily routine. If you tend to hunch over and cross your arms, your confidence will naturally decline and make you feel inferior to others.
- Know your company.
- There's nothing worse than going to a networking event to build clientele, and not knowing everything about your company. You don't have to know every detail of every single thing, but you do need to know the important stuff. Those you speak with may ask you unexpected questions about your business and you'll need to know how to answer those. Or they may tell you unexpected concerns or issues they have with businesses like yours (or your business itself), and you'll want to have respectable, honest, and professional explanations to keep your reputation above ground... and hopefully mend their concerns, as well.
- If you don't know an answer to a question, be honest. Do not make up something and provide an inaccurate answer, because it could potentially make things way worse. Instead, ask for their business card and tell them you will give them a call when you find out the answer to their question/concern.
- Know your market and industry... a.k.a. study.
- Just when you thought you were done studying in school, there are countless opportunities and reasons to keep studying and learning in the "real world."
- Know the ins-and-outs of your industry, your target audience / market, your competitors, your current clients, etc.
- Know your world.
- My testimony: I've struggled with this a lot in the past, because I never really cared about politics, the news, economics, government, or even sports. I never watched TV, the news, or read anything about anything going on in our city, our country, or our world. I cared about what I had to know, what I was doing on the weekend, what I had to get done, what I was going to have for dinner.... but after many networking events, I started to realize how ignorant and non-educated I appeared in multiple of the conversations I had. And I have a Bachelor's degree from a reputable, top class school. But it was difficult to hold a real conversation with anyone over 10 years older than me because I was never up-to-date on the world around me. All I ever seemed to say is, "I've never heard of that," and "Wow! Really?" and "How did I not know about this?" I'll tell you why. Because I never tried and never cared. And consequently, this intimidated me and made me feel inferior to those around me -- hence, lowering my confidence in networking.
- My advice to you is to be in the "know." Subscribe to Huffington Post, CNN, Forbes, your local newspaper, and occasionally watch the news. You don't have to know it like the back of your hand, but at least understand the idea behind that war, government issue, political candidate, economic crisis, criminal offense, new technology, or business affair.
5) Have a rockstar business card.
When it comes to business cards, less is more. You want to tell what you do in a few words, have your name on it, contact info, and an overpowering business logo.
Why do I say overpowering? Well, what happens a lot of the time is that you will remember a person the next time you meet them (even sometimes what their company does), but have no clue what company they work for. I call this a huge marketing mistake. You see it all the time in advertising.
Whether it's a billboard, a TV commercial, or a t-shirt, sometimes all you see is the message. You remember the slogan, the commercial, the way it made you laugh or how clever it was... but many times, you forget what they were advertising or WHO was advertising it. What's the point of marketing and advertising if you're just trying to make a clever ad and not getting people to remember your company?
What should be included:
- On the front:
- A large company logo (or headshot, depending on business).
- A website URL
- A name and contact info
- On the back:
- A picture of what you do or sell (if applicable to business).
- A slogan (basically, a short sentence that helps people remember what you do or what makes you stand out against competitors).
DONT's of business cards:
- Too much information
- Every service and price you offer
- All the cities you service to
- An introduction / summary about your company
- Dark on dark, or light on light (pick colors that stand out, and that you can easily read the information)
- Neon colors. Ever. Unless neon happens to be your logo's color choice, those colors are not pleasant for the eyes and make things harder to read. This can also apply with colors like red, yellow, green, and orange. Choose your colors wisely.
- Social media buttons to show ways they can connect (too much info, and nowadays "assumed")
- Fancy or decorative type. Use something that is easy to read.
- Don't hand out your business cards like candy. Only give them to those who would like a business card or who can benefit from it, instead of going into a conversation instantly handing them out (which appears pushy and too forward).
DO's of business cards:
- Prioritize what information you MOST want prospective clients/connections to see. What information can you leave out? What is the one or two things that make your business stand out against competitors?
- Prioritize readability over creativity. The information is most important, not the way it looks.
- Double check for typos.
- Never leave home or work without your business cards. Stick some in your car, in your purse, in your wallet, shirt pocket, and in your work bag. Bring plenty of business cards with you.
- Protect your business cards in a professional business card holder. There's nothing more unprofessional than pulling out a bent-up, dirty business card from being stashed somewhere.
CAN's (not have to's) of business cards:
- A small headshot of yourself so they remember who they spoke to.
- Unique business card shapes and styles, but with readable, adequate information.
- Write on your business card with a note or extra info before you give it to them. Or write on their business card so you remember what you talked about, or what to follow up with them about.
6) Follow up.
For any business card you receive, make sure you follow up that night or the following morning. This will ensure that your conversation or interaction is more fresh in their mind, and that they will remember you once you contact them.
For first time follow ups, you can follow up multiple ways:
- Shoot them a quick email or phone call.
- NEVER give a sales pitch or add information on what your company does, unless by request.
- Say it was nice to meet them and looking forward to meeting up again soon (something along those lines). Include any conversation points you had with them to help them remember you and to show that you were actually listening to them. If they had questions that you didn't know the answer to, or if there's any other thing they wanted to know about, be sure to send that over in your email conversation.
- Mention in the conversation that if they ever want to meet you for coffee or lunch, to feel free to give you a call. Or mention how they can connect with you on social media.
- Connect personally on LinkedIn from your personal account.
- Stay away from Facebook and Twitter until you build a closer relationship.
- Connect B2B on social media.
- Like their business's pages and connecting with them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Houzz, Blog, Pinterest, etc. from your company's pages.
After you've met them multiple times (at least 2-3 times), you can follow up and start building the relationship process in these ways:
- Scheduling a one-on-one meeting.
- Don't make it too formal or all about business. Instead, just see if they would like to causally meet up for lunch or grab a coffee during a break.
- Again, wait to connect with them on Facebook and others until you really start to build a relationship with them.
- It will creep them out if you rush things with an awkward friend/follow request.
- Always say hi and chat for a bit when you see them at networking events (even if it's only for a couple minutes).
- Don't just have a typical conversation with them and ask basic questions. Try to get to know them a little more each time and build trust/comfort with each other.
- Find out what they're interested in, what their hobbies are, their relationship/family status (to see if you could potentially go on a couples date or hang out with all the kids), what they like to do on the weekends, where they normally hang out, the area they live in, and so forth.
Relationships can be built in networking... but you must remember a couple important things:
- Relationships take time. You probably won't make a best friend or a new client in one or two meetings. Remember the seed-planting analogy: you can plant seeds all you want, but in order to grow a fruitful tree, you must water it, nourish it, take care of it, and help it grow to the best of it's ability. You can just leave the seed sitting there, but it'll be useless and nothing will ever grow from the seed alone.
- Sincerity, being a good listener, asking questions, and smiling are key tools in being an effective networker... which dramatically helps your chances and success of creating solid, lucrative referral sources, or even new clients.