When I started my business almost 10 years ago I thought networking was something I had to do…so I did.
After joining my local Chamber of Commerce, attending two events feeling exhausted and unproductive I quit.
If this was what networking was, I didn’t want any part of it.
It wasn’t until 5 years ago I decided to create my own network event and quickly I learned the following:
What Networking Isn’t
Attending Events: Most networking events are focused around bars, loud music and free food. Not only is it hard to carry on a conversation in that setting, but you’ll find most people in two places – in small cliques with whom they came and/or near the free stuff. Last time I checked those aren’t ideal conditions for conversing.
Elevator pitch: Be prepared to tell someone what you do in 30 seconds or less. Even if you accomplish that feat, do you really believe someone is going to buy what you’re selling or hire you because of your answer? There’s no harm in professional clarity, but the result won’t end in a transaction.
Passing Out/Collecting Business Cards: Networking isn’t a competition. The distributor/collector of the most business cards loses. Contact information only comes in handy when a prospect is already looking for something you’re offering BEFORE they talk to you. Most attendees at networking events are looking/offering similar things. If you leave with less of your business cards or a collection of new ones, you haven’t accomplished much.
What Networking Is
Following Up: Networking is 10% the initial contact and 90% what you do after. Meeting someone is a lead, but following up makes them a potential connection. Marketing 101 says it takes the same message seen 7 times to sink in. No matter how charismatic you are, building a relationship takes time. If you’re not in it for the long-haul, you won’t get the results you desire.
Selling Yourself: A caveat a friend of mine said to me concerning networking is “if I like the way someone thinks, chances are I’ll keep in contact with him/her.” During a conversation you should be focused on selling you, not your product or service. Relationships have more to do with liking a person than any technical knowledge. Be likable. Share what you’re passionate about. Live with the results.
Connecting: The term networking has a negative connotation. It sounds like an exclusive club reserved for extraverts. In reality connecting is open to all. In fact, I’d argue that if done right introverts have an advantage because of their listening skills. Like dating, connecting happens over several interactions. My advice? Connect with as many people as possible and your odds start increasing in the numbers game.