Last week I was the MC and the motivational speaker for a MEGA Networking event. I had the opportunity to watch more than 100 people spend more than four hours making connections, exchanging business cards and learning about each others’ businesses.
Each person left that day with at least 80 or so business cards, and a whole lot of opportunity to build their network. In fact, I am sure that more than one person left that room feeling a little more than overwhelmed. I mean, how great that you made so many connections, but now what? How do you make your networking count?
To get the most out of networking you need to follow these simple rules:
1. Know Your Criteria — You meet a whole room full of people, you make great connections and now you have a stack of business cards thicker than a triple-decker sandwich. What are you supposed to do? Well, first rule of networking: Don’t even think about following up with everyone. Your time is valuable, and more importantly, so is theirs. So ask yourself: Who did you really connect with? Who piqued your interest and made you want to learn more? Which relationships feel like they have potential both personally and professionally?
Then follow up with those contacts. Often I will have two groups. My first group contains my “definites,” my priorities: those three or four folks who hit the top of the list. By following up with them and making those connections I will not only build quality relationships, but I will make good use of my time and theirs. My second group is for those people I just sort of skimmed the surface with; I like what I learned and I want to discover more. I will contact them right after I make contact with my priority list.
2. Follow up To Learn — There is no instant gratification in networking. I repeat: there is no instant gratification in networking. Your main purpose in networking needs to be gathering information. My pet peeve is when people call me after a networking event and want to get together for coffee or lunch. When I dig a little deeper I find their reason is to tell me about their business and their needs. Quite frankly, I am not interested in a relationship like that, and even if I was, I am at a point in my career where I do not have the time. Remember, when you network, you’re asking for people’s time, and time is valuable. When you ask people to have coffee or lunch with you, remember that is time taken away from their business. If you are initiating the meeting, then you need to make sure you make it more beneficial to them than it is to you.
3. Relationship First, Business Second — Networking is about connection. When we lose sight of that, we lose the opportunity to build a relationship. Without relationship we are not networking. People do business with you because they think your product has value, but they continue to do business with you and refer business to you because they like and trust you, because you have a relationship. If you want to make your networking count then you need to invest in the relationship before you even begin to talk business. You have to allow people to tell you about themselves, their businesses and their families. You need to learn about their hobbies, activities they are involved in and the things you have in common. Building the relationship first builds a business relationship that will last.
Networking is both a science and an art. To make it work you need to understand how to combine the rules with a little human touch. Make your networking count!