Our advice: Don’t think, ‘What can I get out of this?’ But instead, think: ‘What can I offer?’ It changes your mindset from a sort of desperation to a spirit of generosity. (And in business, that’s when the magic happens).
Become the person others go to when they need something. That might mean suggesting someone for a job when you can; or putting them in touch with an acquaintance. Basically, it feels good to give, give, give, rather than be the ‘needy networker’.
That aside, there are some definite tips for successful networking. Here’s our networking nine:
1) Take your business cards
So basic. This is the ‘Janet & John book’ of networking: as fundamental as it gets. And yet, how often do I meet people at events who fumble in their dog-eared purse and eventually mumble, ‘Oh, I don’t seem to have one with me.’ Carry a business card wallet, cram them in my wallet and the pockets of your handbag, so there’s no way you’ll be empty-handed, even if you give them out like confetti. Offering a business card is a trade: you should get one in return.
2) Be the one with the memorably great handshake
Do people judge, instantly, from a handshake? Oh yes, every time. Firm. Dry. And with a steady gaze right in the eye. Bingo. I remember people by their handshake years later – and I’m not alone.
3) Have your ‘elevator’ pitch ready if you need it
Have a short, concise version you can share about what you do and where you work, who your clients are (if you have any) and what your goals are. If possible, give a sense not only of what you do but who you are. This is the story you’d like to write for your life. Practice it, if necessary.
Use “what’s your story” as an ice-breaker – and give other people time to share theirs. (Everyone has one.) All the time, be asking yourself: ‘What can I offer this person?’ Perhaps you can put them in touch with someone who’d be useful – appreciate that might not always be you.
5) Have a diverse network, not a large one
If you only network inside your industry or social group, it’s easy to become insular. Go to work ‘mixers’ and social events, yes, but also attend events for your chosen professional body, as well as designated networking events organised by people who specialise in putting people together.
6) Next day, log your contacts
I’d estimate that at least half the people who exchange business cards never look at them again. That’s probably a vast underestimate. Occasionally they’ll feng shui their handbags – by which time they can’t remember who that person was, or why they wanted that contact for in the first place. Pre-schedule 30 minutes in your diary the morning after a networking event to follow up on contacts and add people to your address book, recording as much detail as possible. Why not write a note on the back of their card right there and then?
7) Reach out
Networking ‘guru’ Keith Ferrazzi says that “every free moment is a chance to e-mail or call someone.” He makes hundreds of calls a day. He sends e-mails constantly. He remembers special birthdays. Try to reach out to that new contact.
8) Don’t ‘only connect’
Build solid relationships. Don’t expect overnight miracles from networking. It takes time for people to develop confidence in you and you need to invest in those relationships. Try connecting with them on a level other than business – as humans, we always bond through shared interests, no matter what they are. You don’t need to be BFFs – but you should seem three-dimensional. Perhaps there are other events you could attend together?
9) And above all, remember that networking isn’t a competition
It’s not like the person who dies with the biggest collection of business cards wins. Networking should be about building real relationships, actively maintaining them – and above all, giving as much as you take. Then, you never know, you may even find you get to like, rather than dread it.