Business Networking is a profession and the correct way to network is a skill that you develop over time. The correct way to look at networking is that is it one of ways that you can help build your personal brand and expand your career or business opportunities. It is important to have a plan and make the most of the time that you spend at events. After all, you need time for follow-ups and client work, right?
There is of course the wrong approach to networking and the correct approach.
Here is an example of what not to do. I will use a recent experience I had with a fellow networker.
I was at an event in Boston and briefly met a young professional who appeared nervous and was giving out his business cards faster than a blackjack dealer at the casino, hoping he can close some deals that night and report back to his boss the next day. I received a Linkedin connection request from him at 11:55pm that night. Of course, I was still up doing work and connected to him right away. At the stroke of midnight, I received a length follow-up message from him explaining to me everything about his company and asking me for a meeting so I can buy his service right away. His service? Digital Marketing. What is my business? Digital Marketing. How about, it was nice to meet you Jeff and I enjoyed learning about you and your goals. You can see dollar signs in his message and no personal references whatsoever.
If you go to business networking events with the sole purpose of closing deals, it is not going to work, plain and simple. Savvy networkers can sense this a mile away. It is like a bad cold call.
Instead of the "all about me" approach, when you meet someone at an event or even on social media, build a personal relationship first. Ask how they are doing? What brings them to the event that night? What are YOUR goals? This will immediately build trust and make the person think, you genuinely care. At some point, they might even be the one to follow-up and ask to meet for coffee before you even mention to them what you do.
When you build a professional relationship with someone, over time, the transaction (i.e. the potential to do business) is easier and less forced. You would feel more comfortable asking for the sale and in return you help them with their business.
I will close with some quick tips to complement what I mentioned earlier:
- Only talk to between 4-6 people at a networking event. Don't be a mayor and shake everyone's hand at the event. You want people to remember you for good reasons.
- Do not, I repeat DO NOT send a Linkedin request to someone and then immediately send a sales pitch. Instead, simply say Hi and How you can help without mentioning what you do.
- Go to a networking event with a plan. Your plan can be to make between 4-6 new friends that evening and that is it. Your plan can be to simply help 3 people tonight with their business.
- Become the one people gravitate to, not run away from. If you are a magnet, the business will come with less effort.
- Understand second level networking. That person that you build a great personal relationship may know someone that can be an ideal client for you. Powerful stuff!