Ever hit the door of a networking event and just freeze? All those happy smiling people standing there waiting for something brilliant to come out of your mouth and suddenly you are completely thrown off your game. So you do one of three things, you immediately look for someone you know and quickly engage them in conversation, or you stand there like the nerd at high school dance with no one to talk to, or worse yet you walk up to strangers introduce yourself and spend the next fifteen minutes talking a mile a minute about absolutely nothing. Believe me we have all been there.

Yes, networking can be intimidating and at times a little overwhelming. However, I believe no skill produces a better return on investment than networking when it comes to growing your business. It is well worth your time and investment to learn how to make your networking fun, easy and incredibly productive.

Let me let you in on a few little secrets: Networking is a skill that needs to be learned (I don’t believe anyone is a natural networker); Networking is a skill that anyone can learn and be good at; and Networking holds the key to helping you be successful in any economy. So how do you network effectively? How do you network so that it is fun, easy and productive?

First, Make A Plan!
I want you to sit down and think about networking before you do it. So many of us have no rhyme or reason as to why and how we choose our networking events, how we determine who we we need to meet, and what we ultimately hope to achieve. If you want your networking to be effective, then you need to first know why you are networking. What do you want to gain and what are your goals? Do you need new clients, better relationships with existing clients, a new job, better job, people to go mountain biking with? It doesn’t matter what your purpose is, you just need to know it so you can choose the right events with the right people.

Networking is most effective when your purpose aligns with your event. Make sure the events you choose to attend put you in direct contact with the type of people who can help you achieve your purpose.

Second, Make An Impression!
Your goal with networking is to make an impression – a positive one. You want people to want to know you and want to talk with you. That all begins with how we look, how we introduce ourselves, and the value of our conversation. It all begins with our personal brand.

Professional dress, a smile and great eye contact will make you appear confident and approachable. Your introduction should not only help people understand what you do, but at the same time ensure you standout from your competitors, and your conversation needs to be 80 percent listening and 20 percent asking questions. Asking questions and listening is how we establish trust early on, and how we identify ways we can add value and take the relationship to the next level. Remember, networking is not about you. You’re there to listen and learn about others.

Third, Make It Count!
Networking is a beginning not an end. You need to know what your next steps are before you leave an event. Then within 24-hours you need to follow-up on those next steps and take action. Remember your second or even third meeting with a networking contact is NOT a sales call. Your still building the relationship and determining if you can be of service. Focus your second and third calls on adding value.

Follow these three steps – Make A Plan, Make An Impression, and Make It Count – and watch your networking become fun easy and productive. Watch your prospects turn into customers!