Let’s be honest, networking can be downright awkward at times. It’s not like you’re asking the person out on a date, but it sure can feel like it- walking up cold to someone who’d be a great contact, flipping them your business card and then giving them a wink and doing the fake finger pistol motion followed by the click-click sound with your tongue. I kid, I kid. We all know that’s definitely not the way to make a contact- make an impression, yes- but not build a future business relationship.
In all seriousness, networking is a powerfully vital tool to advance your personal and professional life and should be a skill we continually refine and use. More times than not, landing your next job or gaining a big lead boils down to relationships and who you know. Here are some steps to avoid the awkwardness and network like a pro:
- Participate in various networking groups. Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of Business Network International, breaks them into four groups: Casual contact networks (networking events or industry mixers), knowledge networks (professional associations), strong contact networks (groups that meet frequently specifically to build professional relationships, like those run by BNI), online networks (professional social media services, such as LinkedIn).
- Be intentional. What if there’s someone you don’t know, but want to know? I have a friend who through Twitter was following the VP of a non-profit that was her dream place to work, but never imagined it would happen. Long story short, my friend reached out the VP and asked if she ever had time she would like to pick her brain about marketing (since they both worked in the same field). Over a year later a position opened up and the VP called my friend to see if she was interested— all started via social media and the phone. Remember though, it’s about building a relationship not trying to get something from them (see #4).
- Be prepared and don’t be shy. When going to an event, have questions prepared in your mind and know your elevator pitch well. Find someone standing alone and go introduce yourself and let the conversation flow.
- Don’t expect anything. “Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favors, try reaching out with curiosity. Contact interesting and relevant people and see what happens… Find out what makes them interesting and how you can help them — and don’t expect anything in return,” said James Clear of the Passive Panda.
- Be available for your contacts. Don’t always be the needy one or drop of the map when not in need of something. Building long-lasting, genuine relationships is a two-way street.
- Lastly, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Send a follow-up email or snail mail and stay in touch. After meeting someone and exchanging information, make sure you send them a follow-up email. Even better, if someone took time to meet with you one on one sending a handwritten thank you note goes a long way.
And Never, Never Ever:
- Be overly aggressive. Matthew Toren of Entrepreneur.com says it best, “If you walk into an event with the mannerisms of a used car salesman, you will immediately turn off everyone around you. Yes, you want to end up known at the end of the day, but not for being arrogant and annoying.”
- Ask for a favor from someone you just met or have no relationship with. This puts that person in an awkward position when you really have no street cred with them yet. Unless they offer to do something specific for you, be careful in how you move forward. Relationships take time to develop and don’t happen overnight. Give it time.