You read the title; so for this one, “we don’t need no introductory paragraph.”
Get off your computer – feels obvious at this point, but we’ll throw it out there: you can’t effectively network solely from your desk. Yes, email and social media can be a good way to make first contact with people, but if you want to really initiate true forward momentum in the relationship, get them in the 3D world as soon as possible. Suggest going to lunch or coffee, or accompanying one another to an interesting industry event. However you do it, taking a new professional relationship offline as early as possible is the single best way to set yourself apart from the constant flow of internet noise.
Forget you’re “working” – Whether you’ve just been introduced to someone at an industry event specifically for networking, or you struck up a conversation while in line for coffee, once you’re engaged with someone in a professional conversation, allow yourself to become lost in the interaction. Thinking about how this new relationship might develop and become important to you and your business can distract you from the current moment…and being a distracted, dispassionate conversationalist is no way to lock someone into your network. It’s great to be strategic about meeting people, but once the interaction has been initiated, just talk. And listen. You know your business and your industry well enough to let the conversation happen organically. You’re almost assured to have a better time – and make a better, lasting impression – if you do.
Set goals – Don’t focus solely on your big picture goals. It’s important to set smaller, attainable goals that measure the success of each piece of your business, all of which feed the larger overall goals. “Landing two new clients this month” is not a networking goal. Even if that is your end game, set benchmarks relating directly to your networking efforts (like, “I will get 5 business cards at this luncheon”, or “I will set-up 2 coffee dates with new contacts for next week.”) Watch how, when applied to all branches of your business, these mini goals not only fuel your sense of constant accomplishment, but quickly add up to fulfilling those overarching goals.
Mind your manners – Networking might have it’s own additional set of rules and customs, but all of society’s normal, mannerly expectations still apply. Try to listen more than you talk, be thoughtful in your interactions, and generous with your time when you can. Being perceived as professionally weak is something to avoid, but trust us – that never happens as a result of having good manners. Don’t confuse “being a jerk” with “being powerful”.
Elevator pitches still matter –There will always be a reason to sell what you do in a very short window of time. It will always play in your favor if you maintain the ability to do that in a way that manages to cover who you are, what you do, and why it’s relevant, and comes off as casual, efficient, and not forced or pushy. Easy, right? We know, it’s not. Which is why you should practice ahead of time. In a mirror. Repeatedly. And like a resume, elevator pitches need periodic updating.
Play to your weaknesses – Do you always mean to follow-up with people you meet, but by the time the appropriate follow-up window arrives, you’ve already moved on to something else? Factor this into your day-to-day organization. There are loads of apps and online/mobile tools that can bolster your networking arsenal. For example, if you know you’re prone to having a memory lapse about following up with new contacts, plan ahead. Set an alarm to go off the following week right when you first enter that person’s contact info into your mobile. And speaking of which…
Don’t hang onto business cards – As soon as you leave a networking event or meeting or walk away from a chance encounter with a promising contact, immediately enter their business card info into your mobile device. Nothing sadder than a misplaced business card. Well, perhaps print shops don’t think so.