If you’ve ever been to a networking event, then you’ve likely met that person that bustles around the room meeting as many people as possible to give their business cards to. When you meet, there’s usually this feigned interest in what you do, then they quickly turn the conversation onto why you should do business with them followed by exchanging cards with you before they move onto their next conquest in the room.
You might be envious of this outgoing networker’s fervor. Well don’t be! Card pushing, heartless blaber-mouthing and pushy sales tactics are not effective ways for building valuable professional relationships that last.
So many people mistakenly think that networking is a matter of getting down a good elevator speech, going to as many events as possible and passing out cards to every breathing soul in the room. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.
Networking is about making valuable connections so you can build relationships with colleagues and potential clients. But in order for those connections to be valuable and the relationships to be genuine and fruitful, you need to target the RIGHT kind of group and put in concerted time and effort to your endeavors.
With it being the “year of the Meetup,” I probably don’t need to tell you about the growing number of networking opportunities. I’m pretty sure there’s at least three networking events going on in Fort Collins every weekday. I’ve gone to as many as four networking events in one day.
You can quickly burn out if you try to make every networking opportunity (trust me, I know), not to mention you’ll waste a lot of time networking in groups that aren’t a match (yup, been there and done that too). Ideally, you want to network with groups that align with your target audience. They should share common values with you, demonstrate an ability to provide value to you all while you’re being your authentic self. So how do you connect with a group that’s a fit for you? Follow these 7 steps to Authentic and Effective networking:
- Know Thyself – Before you start hitting the streets, you should answer a few important questions: First, you have to know a bit about yourself, what you like, value and enjoy. Secondly you have to know a bit about your ideal connection, describe who they are, what they’re like and the capacity you’d like to work with them. Having an understanding of these things will help you to network most effectively.
- Be Authentic – Be true in how you’re representing yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, or you know straight up lie to pretend you have something in common with someone.
- Connect with the Right People – If the people you want to connect with (i.e. CEO’s, HR Managers, Controllers, complimentary service providers, etc.) are not participating in the groups you’re checking out then it is probably a waste of time. Make the most of your efforts by joining groups that will provide the most valuable connections for your business.
- Find a Group You Enjoy - While it is important to stretch beyond your comfort zone, you shouldn’t put yourself in a room with a bunch of suits and ties if it’s not your style. There are many benefits to participating in a group you like being a part of: first, you’re more likely to be your authentic self and and secondly, you’ll want to participate in the group over time.
- Connect with People Emotionally – Chances are, you can find something in common with most people you’ll meet. Things as simple as where you grew up, favorite restaurants, hobbies, family or work experience can provide an opportunity to ease into conversation so you may make a real emotional connection with someone.
- Stick With It – Building meaningful and valuable relationships takes time. When you join a networking group commit to spending at least six months as an active member. If you’re not there, you’re not demonstrating the quality of your character or the value you have to offer. In short, absenteeism makes a non-impression on people.
- Hold One-On-One Meetings – When you perceive a genuine connection with a fellow member, get to know them by scheduling a coffee or lunch meeting. This is a great opportunity for you both to learn more about each other’s businesses and for you to demonstrate value while seeking the value they can bring to you.
With years of networking experience behind me, I’ve developed a keen insight to determine when someone I meet is or is not a good fit for me to develop a working relationship with. Simply put, if I see a misalignment I don’t pursue developing a deeper connection with that person. While it may be tempting to work the numbers game of sales, when it comes to networking go for quality not quantity!