Raise your hand if you are familiar with this story. You attend a business networking event and meet several people. You have pleasant conversations about what they do, what you do, who you know in common, and the most recent news story. Then you exchange business cards and promise "to have lunch soon." Two weeks later, you find their cards at the bottom of your purse while you are looking for your favorite pen.
OK, you can put your hands down now.
Whether you like it or not, you have to network to continually grow your business and identify people who may be able to assist you with future projects and opportunities.
The challenge is - how to effectively network. Don't worry! We are here to help you with the top three steps to networking more effectively.
#1: Identify the right event or group to network with
Identifying the right networking event or group should be your first priority. We all have limited time, and no one likes to leave an event feeling like they wasted theirs.
Ask yourself what your goals are in participating in networking meetings so that you will pick groups and events that will help you get what you are looking for.
For networking groups - Read organizational missions and membership lists before joining an organization. Make certain their mission reflects your values and goals. Ask your trusted network if they are familiar with the group and would recommend them to you.
For networking events - Identify the purpose of the event. Is it a social gathering every month or an event following a business meeting? Depending on your goals, each event has it's own purpose. Usually, regularly scheduled networking events tend to be more social, while events after a business meeting are more focused on business development and opportunities to follow up on conversations during the meeting or further discussion on the meeting's topics.
#2 Be able to briefly articulate what you do, what are looking for, and how you can help others.
Too often, when meeting someone in a networking context, they have a difficult time articulating what they do.
It's not clear: "Well, I help businesses find businesses to help with business." Huh?!?
It's too long: " I started in 2003, with helping other businesses market themselves, and then started working for X company where I was responsible for yada yada and then..." ZZzzzzzz....Wait What!?! oh....uh huh...[polite nod]
They have no clue what they do: "I'm the business development manager. I manage developing our business." Umm...ok...
These same examples can be used for explaining what you are looking for and how you can help others. In order to have valuable conversations, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do, what you want, and how you can help others
How do you do that?
PRACTICE - no really, you have to practice your pitch. Gather all friends, family, and co-workers that are willing to lend an ear, and practice. Give them your 1-2 minute pitch on what you do. Ask them their opinion and advice.
UNDERSTAND - If you don't understand what your capabilities are, how can you articulate them to someone else or offer to lend a hand? Take an inventory of your skills and tools. What are you good at? Where can you improve? What are your goals? How are you willing to help others? Be sure to practice those too.
Once you have your pitches down, you will experience much more valuable conversations and less strange looks and blank stares.
#3 Follow up quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given and/or with those you meet
The whole point was to meet people to build your contacts and business, right? So, follow up!
Your first action item when you get back to the office that afternoon, or the next morning, should be to send an email to each person you met. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, a simple "it was nice to meet you, here is my contact info if you ever need anything" will do.
To help with time constraints, develop an email template to send, with areas to personalize each one with their name and some brief comments on the conversation you had with them.
In addition, if someone gave you a referral, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor them by following up and your referrals will continue to grow.
There you have it! The top three steps to networking more effectively. Do this, and your networking will become more valuable to you and your business.
Oh! And if you are looking for a networking community for women committed to maximizing their potential by driving business, fostering leadership, enhancing abilities, and championing the success of women in the workplace, then contact us for more information.
Michelle Hundley is President & CEO of Stratus Public Relations and Founder & President of The Influential Circle.
Michelle has over 20 years of experience in Public Relations with an emphasis on Public Policy in the maritime, energy, oil and gas, and transportation industries. She is also an expert at stakeholder relations, and business growth strategies.