Suit up, show up, meet, greet, shake hands, pitch yourself / your business, and ask questions. Repeat until you’ve made connections with people who could potentially help you or you wish to meet. Just thinking about the concept of networking makes many people experience agita. The problem is that networking is a major part of growing a business or expanding your relationships. You need to meet new people, expand your universe and sphere of influence, and be actively prepared to go and chase business. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at networking, and you don’t have to be to “fake it til’ you make it”.
I share this advice with my mentees and am compelled to share my advice on networking with the broader audience from the perspective of an introvert after feeling I was approached “the wrong way” or in an ineffectual manner numerous times via social media and in person at events. As a result of hard work through my mentors, addressing my own fears as an INTJ personality type and implementing various networking strategies, I have been able to successfully craft and hone my skills to be comfortable and effective in these situations. Hopefully, my counsel and guidance will serve useful and allow you to play to your strengths and connect with people in a quality manner.
I understand that we’re all busy these days, but that doesn’t mean you’re too busy for networking. Networking doesn’t have to be an onerous, time-intensive process. It’s not hard to do networking right if you steer clear of the bad advice. Let’s discuss some ways you can do it efficiently and effectively.
Art of giving back
Networking is not about shallow interactions, collecting business cards or “what’s in it for me?” Dorie Clark, noted speaker and Harvard Business Review contributor, offers great perspective on the topic of networking and giving back. Some people think of networking is all about taking. But when done right, it’s also very much about giving. One way you can help is by providing hands-on assistance.
Deliver value and help others, with no expectation of anything in return
It’s also about how you can give back thoughtfully, whether it’s providing hands-on help to them or others they care about, making strategic introductions, offering information or insight, or just making small kind gestures, your generous approach will set you apart.
Be a connector who helps good people connect with other amazing people for their mutual benefit.
Please don’t make the networking effort all about you, you you. Instead, ask lots of questions about them. Most people love to talk about themselves and share their opinion. “Where are you from? What do you do? How do you like it there?” Most people ask and answer the exact same questions, so others will appreciate a topic that’s a change of pace and will be more likely to remember you as well.
Dare to be different. Find a mutual connection point.
Prioritize your event options
Your time in limited. There are a lot of networking events out there. You don’t have to go to every event. Pick and choose which fit your interests and your lifestyle best. Develop a plan and determine what will be a good use of your time and energy. First, determine who will be attending. This is an important component to plan for when it comes to determining which networking events to attend. And yet, most people give it surprisingly short thought when planning their time. Before committing to any event, get a clear sense of who usually attends and participates. You want to focus on events where you can derive value and meet influential people or potential clients or at least people who can refer you to potential clients. Next, consider how likely it is that you’ll actually connect with people. Some types of events are optimized for making connections, but others aren’t. Another thing to consider is if it’s the type of event you would enjoy. Don’t force yourself to participate in activities you hate, because if you’re miserable, optics don’t lie.
You’re only going to be successful at networking if you’re enjoying yourself and having a good time.
When it comes to networking events, quality matters much more than quantity. Choose events wisely, go in with a plan, and focus your energy. Be more intentional in managing your time.
Follow through is just as important as first impression
Everyone knows that when you network, you’ve got to make a great first impression. While research confirms that first impressions matter, follow through is just as important as it establishes trust, accountability, credibility and the fact that you hold relationships in high regard. Send an email or make a phone call (or even better, a handwritten thank you card!) after your first meeting, and plan to grab lunch or coffee.
Move past the first impression and start working on developing valuable relationships that will pay dividends.
Be authentic, genuine and engaging
One of my pet peeves is the networker who works the room from a mile away. They don’t have conversations longer than a few minutes, their eyes are always wandering to discover who they should talk to next, and they don’t like to stand in one place for too long. Their conversations consist of name, position, professional history and then they move on to the next target. Focus on the person in front of you. Don’t be that person who is signaling that they would rather be talking with someone else. If the person in front of you is not your target market, politely excuse yourself.
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to contacts.
If you go to a networking event and have two engaging, meaningful conversations, you’ll make better contacts than if you say hello to the majority of the attendees. People will more likely remember you if you are engaged and differentiated than the rest of the attendees they meet.
Ask genuine questions. Be present. Offer to help. Find out how you can contribute solutions to someone’s issues.
That’s the kind of networking that will deliver great contacts and probably friends for years to come.
Put your best foot forward
Being yourself will not only lead to more authentic interactions, but you’ll make a better and more accurate impression. That’s not to say don’t put your best foot forward, but if you’re an introvert who hates advice like “always introduce yourself first,” or if you’re an early riser who is frequently told to attend networking bar nights,” tweak that advice. Distill its true meaning and then apply it so that it works for you.
Be confident and take advantage of opportunities.
Use social media as an adjunct to networking
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn certainly are not a replacement for face-to-face networking. There’s still nothing like connecting in person, but that’s not always possible. So social media can be a helpful adjunct to making introductions and providing background. However, it needs to be used effectively. Social media is one good way to do it since most senior professionals handle their own social media.
Social media is another avenue for creating touch points.
If you start providing insightful comments on the updates they share on Linkedin or retweeting their posts on Twitter, they’ll likely notice and get you on their radar in a positive way. It’ll also lay the groundwork for a good response once you meet them in person, perhaps at an upcoming conference. Once you do meet someone, social media also provides another way to follow up. Social media will never replace interpersonal networking but it can augment it powerfully and ensure your contacts know exactly who you are and what you can do for them.
Listen and approach appropriately
How many of us have been approached on LinkedIn by people trying to sell us something that, if that person had actually read our profile, would politely ask for a viable connection rather than be solicitous because we are connected? People need to take the time to realize who they are contacting and have a reasonable ask. Irritating. I’d rather receive a question like “Is there any chance you’d introduce us to the right people in an organization they are seeking to connect with? It would be greatly appreciated.” That’s honest. It’s awesome. Their names get passed on and I’ll make the connection and outreach.
Imbibe in moderation
Drinking does not make you more networkable. A drink or two is part of networking, but slamming back tequila shots is not ideal. It can erode credibility and others will remember you for core competencies that may not be great for your brand.
Share your business card
As common sense and simple as this sounds,I’m amazed at how many people go to a networking event without business cards. Take plenty and dish them out.
Lastly, say thanks
Thank the hosts of the event on your way out. Always find who is in charge of the event and make a point of personally thanking them before you leave. You’re likely to get another invitation to future events.
Too often, networking can get a bad rap. Many view it as transactional and sleazy, when in fact, if it’s done right, it’s the opposite. It’s about building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. Look for ways to give to those who matter to you. That will create a positive cycle that will strengthen your network. Networks are like gardens. They need to be cultivated in order for them to be healthy and thriving.
About the Author:
David H. Crean, Ph.D, MBA
Managing Director, Life Sciences & Healthcare
25+ Years of Experience
Objective Capital Partners is a leading investment banking advisory firm whose Principals have collectively engaged in more than 500 successful transactions serving the transaction needs of growth stage and mid-size companies. The executive team has a unique combination of investment banking, private equity, and business ownership experience that enables Objective Capital Partners to provide large enterprise caliber investment banking services to companies with annual revenues up to $500MM. Services include sale transactions, partnering/ licensing, equity and debt capital raises, valuation and comprehensive advisory services. The firm uses a proprietary process to work to achieve maximum company valuation, premium pricing, and high client satisfaction rates post-sale. The firm’s industry expertise is focused on 5 verticals including healthcare, life sciences, business services, technology, and consumer products. Additional information on Objective Capital Partners is available at www.objectiveibv.com.
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