Networking Tips: 5 Steps To Be A Better Networker
“Hi, I’m Todd.”
“Oh hi, I’m Annie. What do you do, Todd?”
“I design websites. Here’s my card.”
*POOF, Todd disappears to talk to someone else*
Um...where did Todd go? Does this sound like every networking event you’ve ever been to?!
This is all-too common. Todd might as well be saying “hey, you throw this away, ok?” I mean, right? And this is what most of us hate about networking.
But it’s a new year so it’s time to do things differently. Today, I’m going to show you 5 steps to turn you into a better, more efficient networker.
Redefine What “Networking” Means to You
To be a better networker, you need to define your goal for it. Many of us might say we network to get a sale or to get someone interested in our business. But here’s the thing: effective networking is not about promoting yourself.
Effective networking is what I call authentic networking.
Authentic networking is seeking new relationships that can provide meaning, significance, and value to both parties.
I want you to think about networking as getting out in the universe in an attempt to build a real connection and relationship with potential collaborators, clients, and friends. It’s about relationship starting and relationship building. Said relationships may lead to sales, clients, opportunities beyond your wildest dreams. But everything starts with relationships and everything begins with a connection.
If you’re there solely for your own benefit - guess what? We all can tell. And we’re not going to call you. Remember Todd?
Be Prepared: Have Your Why + Your Business Card Ready
So, once you know what you’re trying to do - understand WHY you’re networking. Pick a focus, at least per event you’re attending.
- Looking for a new job
- Looking for new partners or collaborators for your business
- Looking for new clients
Know this answer first, then make decisions in the next steps accordingly. Part of creating meaning in what you do, even and especially something like networking, is making sure you understand and know what you’re trying to accomplish.
Knowing your goal allows you to use it as a compass, leading you to more effective connections.
And please, please make sure you have a business card on you. If you're not a business owner yet or you're aspiring to be in a new career, it's even more important to have a business card. Go to VistaPrint right now and make up simple cards that have your name and contract information on them. What if you meet someone awesome and then have absolutely nothing to give that person? Be prepared.
Be Intentional About The Networking Events You Attend
Your time is a valuable resource to your career, so spend it wisely. I’d encourage you to look for quality over quantity when it comes to choosing what networking events you go to.
I’d rather you go to 2 events in a month that relate to you, your ideal clients, or your ideal collaborators than you birdshot go to 8 random events, most of which have no relevancy to you. It'll be time better spent.
So what should you look for when picking events? Here are a few quick things to consider before RSVP’ing.
- If it’s a small event, that can be a great opportunity to make more intimate connections.
- If it’s small as in-potential for being poorly attended- it may not be worth your time.
- If it’s a huge event and you get overwhelmed by crowds, spend your time at smaller, more intimate networking events instead where you’re naturally more at ease.
- If you’re looking for collaborators for your business, will your ideal partners potentially be there?
- If you’re focused on finding a new job, will people who work at your ideal companies be there?
- If you’re hoping to attract new clients, might your potential ideal clients be there?
- Who is hosting the event - an individual, an organization?
- See if there’s any past events you can see online on Facebook or other sites. If the events happen often and appear successful, chances are it could be valuable to you.
- If an individual is hosting it, is this a person you might want to meet as a potential partner, client, or hiring manager? You’d have a good shot at meeting them if they are hosting, and they might appreciate you attending as a way of supporting them. Voila - you have something in common!
Ask Creative Questions + Be An Engaged Listener
Alright, so most new networking conversations start this way. We ask people or people ask us - “What do you do?” (as if our lives are really just boiling down to our 9-to-5.)
To be a more effective networker, I want to encourage you to be the person asking questions, be engaged, and actively listen. And an awesome place to start is by changing this question.
Retire the “What do you do?” and replace it with a question from this amazing article by Buffer on Medium: “27 Questions to Ask Instead of ‘What do you do?’”
Some of my favorites from the list include:
- What do you do for fun?
- What are you looking forward to right now?
- What’s on your mind lately?
I like the concept of doing this because it’s interesting, and what you want to do with anyone you want to connect further with is peak their interest. In the example in this email, I didn’t give “Todd” anything to chew on and I fed right into the trap of here’s my card/here’s my pitch.
Jill Vitiello says, “Authentic networking gives you an opportunity to tell your own story and, more important, be enriched by listening to other people tell theirs.”
So, embrace that. Be a little different and start with a new question. See what they say. They’ll instantly be intrigued by you and you’ll be in a conversation where you have the opportunity to learn more about them, and also importantly - they will have an opportunity to learn about you.
Feel free to still talk business, but consider this as a standout, engaging place to start.
Actually Use Their Business Card
This whole article was inspired by a friend of mine asking me for advice on what to do to connect with someone once you do get their business card. How do you turn that card into a relationship?
For this, I recommend taking out the business card the next day and writing a quick, thoughtful email to the person. It might sound something like this:
Great meet you at Tyler’s Taproom last night. Your holiday adventures sounded amazing. I also enjoyed hearing about the work you’re doing at the magazine. I’m intrigued to know more of your perspective as an editor.
I’d love to continue the conversation if you’re open to grabbing coffee or lunch together sometime. Let me know - I’m happy to suggest a few dates/times to get it on the calendar.
Owner + Creative Director, Greatest Story Creative
An email like this does a few things. It’s sent in close proximity to the meeting (so you’re more top of mind), it shows an interest in the person not what the person can do for me, and it gives a quick and thoughtful ask (coffee or lunch, I’m happy to put together the availabilities so it’s easy for you to check).
By making sure I have an email signature with my business info, title, and link to my website - it gives the other person an opportunity to scope me out and add more legitimacy to my request.
Now, not everyone will write back - not everyone has time for coffee - but you’d be surprised. You also don’t have to ask for a meeting. You could ask a specific question via email, or ask if someone has five minutes that you could get their perspective on something. You could also call them and leave a voicemail if you want to ask a question or pitch a future meeting, like a coffee.
The secret to this (and why this post isn’t just about what to do with someone’s business card) is that you have to have really done Steps 1-4 to make this powerful. You need to have been intentional along the way, have something unique to mention in the follow-up from your conversation, and know what you’re trying to get out of the encounter: a relationship, and not one sale.
People can sense your sincerity if it's there, and they can tell when it's not. Use that to your advantage and surprise them by reaching out with genuine interest in them, not their potential value to you as a connection.
Now, I'm you’ll still run into plenty of Todd’s in your life, but practicing some of these will help you make an impression on people you want to make an impression on.
From there, ask for the conversation, stay engaged, and you’ll be well on your way to a new professional (or personally) profitable relationship: the amazing byproduct of authentic networking.
And if you’re looking for more resources on Networking, check out expert and speaker, Joe Novara.
Joe and I sat down for a swap-stories coffee just yesterday in Durham. Within just 45 minutes, he had invited me to an amazing networking event he was helping with over lunch THAT day. I went, heard an awesome guest speaker, made great connections, and even won a book giveaway. To top it off, I just wrapped a call with a web designer I met there who's in need of a creative branding person for his clients.
That is the power of authentic networking. I’ve learned firsthand that Joe certainly knows a thing or two about it. Check out his awesome at Joe’s Networking Blog.