On Sunday while I was planning for my upcoming week I realized I had several different networking events/opportunities scheduled so I thought this would be a great subject to discuss. So let’s talk networking.

Networking – We all do it but are we doing it in the best way to further ourselves and our career. Networking is defined as: “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.” My interpretation of this meaning is; anytime you are interacting with people you are networking, whether that is at a formal networking event or walking down the street. Typically, shortly after I meet someone, I am thinking about how I can help them or how we could help each other, which is the goal for networking – to build mutually beneficial contacts.

There are several things to make sure and do when networking and also things to make sure to not do. While reading my tips you may think some are basic and common sense but I would like to set forth a challenge for you: First read all the tips and make note of them. Then next time when you have the opportunity to network, whether that’s at a formal event or while in line at Starbucks, pay attention to how many of these tips you and those around you actually follow. I will be willing to bet many of these tips are forgotten.

So here are a few of my important tips on networking.

  1. Carry business cards where ever you go!!! One of my biggest pet peeves while networking is people not carrying business cards. You never know who you might meet at the grocery store. You could bump into a huge prospect or someone that is hiring at that dream job of your’s. I’ve been to many networking events in my days and never understand when you go to exchange business cards with someone and they say “I forgot my cards” or “I ran out.” If you know you are going to a networking event where you will be connecting with people make sure you have a stack of cards with you. Why else did you come to the event, to drink the sponsored free drinks (which we will discuss shortly)? I never leave my house without business cards in hand.
  2. Don’t drink too much when at a formal networking event. Many formal networking events (in Chicago at least) have a sponsored drink for a portion of the event. You are not there to get as many free drinks as you can; at least I hope not. You are there to make and keep good professional connections. Leave the drinking and socializing for times with your friends. Don’t get me wrong I partake in the sponsored drinks but 1 – 2 the whole night is plenty. Who are you more likely to do business with or refer business to: the professional owning the room with their intriguing personality or the person slurring their words and talking about randomness all over the place?
  3. Move around the room. You aren’t there to hold the wall up. I know it can be a little intimidating but everyone is feeling and going through the same thing as you are, so put them at ease and step up to them.
  4. Don’t focus on how many cards you “pickup”. I know I just told you to “work the room” but it’s not a race to see how many cards one person can go home with. Is it really beneficial to walk away with 100 cards with people’s names on them that you know nothing about? My opinion – no it’s not. Instead focus on the quality of the cards that you did receive and the connections you made with them.
  5. Prepare before a formal networking event. What I mean by this – Think about what your goals are from the event. Are you attending to get new prospects for your company? If yes then who is your target of people to talk with; certain industry, a certain title, etc. Are you looking for the next job opportunity? Then search out HR personnel or managers of your position. Talk to those that work for the company you are interested in joining. Think up some easy opener comments rather than just saying, “wow the weather out there sure is great right now.” Maybe something along the lines “Hey did you see that Mark Cuban just invested in XXXX company, do you think he is going to be a great addition for them?”
  6. Don’t jump into a sales pitch right away. Most people will instantly be turned off when you make the whole conversation about you and what you do. This is a time to develop connections and start building credibility. Turn the focus on them and what they do. The more you get them talking about themselves the better they will feel about the relationship and the conversation.
  7. Do ask them questions all about them. This goes along with #6. Keep them talking about themselves by asking open ended questions. Find out what their needs are, what they do, how you can help them, what their pains are, what keeps them up at night, their dog, etc. The more you get them talking about themselves the more you learn on how you can do business with them. It also shows credibility by showing them you care about them and their needs not just selling them something.
  8. Follow up with those you meet. Even if the person you met is not going to be an instant client they could be a great connection for future. Send a quick thank you email or written note just saying “It was great meeting you. Thanks so much for your time. I hope everything works out with your dog that just had surgery.” You want them to remember you and how great the conversation was that you both shared. You never know when you can help each other.

I could go on and on about different networking tips but I think these are great starters. After attending many networking events along with being in situations that give me the opportunity to network I have learned a lot. Some I’ve learned by doing it wrong myself and figuring it out along the way, watching others do it incorrectly, and watching the great networkers who own a room where ever they go.

Quick interesting example story of a gentleman I ran into at a networking event. See how many of my tips he didn’t follow. I walked into a formal networking event, signed in, and grabbed my name tag. While proceeding in the door towards the group of people I was stopped by a middle aged gentleman that very confidently put out his hand and said hello. After the first typical question “how are you this evening” he asked “what is it that you do?” Before I could get the elevator pitch out he jumped in and said “that’s great. I’m a realtor in the city. I am on the board for xyz realtors. What neighborhood do you live in?” I told him the area and asked if he also does commercial real estate or just residential. He responded saying, “mainly residential, so do you own your place? Do you like your neighborhood? Are you looking to move?” I barely answered with 2 words when he pulled out a huge stack of business cards. He shuffled through the stack and found 1 of his own, handed it to me and asked for my card. I handed it to him as he was walking away on to speak at the next person. The next day I went through my contacts to send out my thank you’s and LinkedIn connections. When I came across his card I decided to hold off just to see what would occur with my new “quality connection”. That was 4 months ago and I still haven’t heard a word from him. Luckily I wasn’t hard up to find a realtor and have a good friend in the city that helps me with all my realtor needs. It makes you wonder what he gained from that event. Was he just trying to prove to someone that he was working and getting tons of contacts or does he just need some coaching on the best networking practices. Those that know me well know I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by, so I reached out to him mentioning how I would be able to assist him in building his business and growing great connections through my company ENDREA LLC – Business Development Consulting. Unfortunately as I mentioned I haven’t heard a word from him. Don’t be this guy!!!!

Do you have any stories similar? Or are you the one I am telling the story about?

Remember the challenge I gave you at the beginning? Are you willing to accept it?