I still remember the very first business networking lunch I attended. It was the Tuesday on the week before Thanksgiving in 2008 at a local Italian restaurant just down the street from my home. It turned out the lunch was free that day if you joined the group for a year. So I did. I did not know a soul in the room, and very little about how to network but I decided to make the commitment. After all, the price to join for a year was the cost the lunch would have been anyway. For the prior 6 years I had been locked away in a cubical where you needed to have clearance to even get on the floor of the building where I spent way too many hours. Now suddenly I was in a world where I had to interact with people and my very survival as a business owner depended on it. To say the least is was scared to death and I am sure it showed. However, I was determined to make it work and over time I developed a system that helped me not only survive but thrive.
You see I learned that business networking is about much more than showing up, shaking hands, throwing out business cards, hoping someone would buy my stuff, it is about building lasting relationships At the end of a network event do you count up the cards you have collected? For most people those cards end up on a shelf, in a drawer, in the trash, or—worse yet—you scan them into a computer so they can spam everyone you just met. Why? What does a business card represent? It’s a piece of paper, with ink and images on it. No relationship has been formed. This networking strategy, by itself, isn’t an effective use of your time, your money or your energy.
It is what you do after the event that really builds the relationships you want to build. Networking for your business growth must be strategic and focused. Not everyone you meet can help move your business forward–but everything you do can be driven by the intention to grow your business. You have total control over whom you meet, where you meet them and how you develop and leverage relationships for mutual benefit. It is up to you whether you stay there, or whether you never get there at all.
Networking your business means you have to be proactive. The core of networking is doing something specific each week that is focused on networking for business growth. You need to have strategic system and executed with focus. Here are some actionable tips:
- Prepare and practice short description of your business.
- Have a standard list questions to ask people you meet about their business.
- During conversations maintain eye contact.
- Ask for business cards but only give yours out when asked.
- Show up early and stay late.
- Volunteer to help.
- Watch your manners and limit your alcohol.
- Plan ahead of time set out what you accomplish during the event.
- Follow up within 24 hours of event.
- Always take care of anything you promised to get people immediately.
When you understand exactly what business networking is and step up to the challenge, you’ll find avenues of opportunity that you may have otherwise never discovered, and you will be making an invaluable investment in the steady growth of yourself and your business. Now these many years later I have maintain relationships with many of those people that I met at my very first networking event. Finally, My Golden Rule of Networking: Don’t Keep Score.