Via Careerealism : Does networking scare you? You’re not alone.
Walking into a room of people you don’t know can be intimidating, but with a little preparation, much of that fear can be relieved.
Here are five things you can do before your next networking event:
1. Think Of Topics You Like To Discuss
How to start a conversation is a common fear among networkers. Tackle that fear by thinking of things that you like to discuss such as movies, books, hobbies, traveling, pets, or kids. This mental preparation helps with conversation starters.
2. Know Who Will Be At The Event
If at all possible, get a list of who will be attending. If you can’t obtain a list before the event, go a little early and ask the organizer for the information and then identify who you would like to meet. Look for people who are associated with organizations you would like to research or work for. Having a plan gives you a sense of purpose and eliminates the fear that you will be aimlessly walking around.
3. Know What Message You Want To Convey
You want people to know what your strengths are and what opportunities you are seeking. When people ask you what you do, be prepared to tell them what positions you are seeking, what companies you are targeting and what your talents are. This is sometimes known as an “elevator pitch” because it is short enough to say to someone that you meet in an elevator. You may want to practice it on a friend so that you feel comfortable with your delivery.
4. Track Your Contacts
The magic of networking is transforming a contact into a mutually beneficial relationship. The only way that can be done is if you follow up with the person. Ask for a business card or at least get an e-mail address. At home, either develop your own tracking system or choose one that you can use consistently. The most important thing that is you are able to easily find the contact information when you go to follow up with the person.
5. Know How You Will Follow Up
A way that I like to continue the relationship with a contact is to ask if they are on LinkedIn. If they are, I go home and immediately ask them to connect. If they aren’t on LinkedIn, I send them an email telling them how much I enjoyed meeting them. Depending on the person, I might also ask if they would like to meet for coffee. This is an easy way of furthering the relationship.
Networking is a wonderful way of building relationships. Use it to your advantage by being prepared. I also challenge you to be a little bold. The ancient Romans summed it up well with their axiom “Fortune favors the bold.”
Via LinkedIn : “I will only tell you if you promise not to laugh at me,” I told my fiancé. I was between jobs, and he had called me midday to see what I was doing. “I am hiding in bed with a pillow over my head because I’m afraid to start my job hunt. Everyone says ‘it’s about networking’ but I don’t know where to begin.”
Not long thereafter, a kind career counselor coached me in networking, a skill that’s helped me find jobs, investments, great people for the companies I invest in and partners. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Step 1: Sort Your List. As an engineer, I thought prioritizing outreach would be all about optimizing. I thought I should maybe start with less experienced people and work my way up within a target organization, or begin with less-desirable companies for practice, then get to the best employers. Or lead off with senior executives and have them hand me down to hiring managers. This was all wrong.
The optimal algorithm is one that keeps you networking even when you’re intimidated. Make a list of possibly relevant people you know, then start with the people you like on that list. Because you will enjoy those meetings, you will keep going. Connections, meetings and flow are your friend. Another key networking rule is to come out of each meeting with two more names. If you begin with people you enjoy, then add twice as many new people who you’re also likely to enjoy, your network of nice, helpful, connected individuals and organizations will grow exponentially. Somewhere in your growing community is the job or partner you are looking for.
Step 2: Be Efficient with Their Time. Just like in math class, doing your homework is essential for networking. Contact your prospect via a relevant channel, ideally through an introduction. If you have to “cold-outreach” to someone, use LinkedIn, or find his or her email. Ask for a short in-person meeting and fall back to a call if you must. Don’t offer breakfast, lunch or coffee—be clear that yours is going to be an efficient meeting.
In your email, share your background and goals, and why you are contacting him or her. Then, really prepare for your meeting or call; read up on the company, so you can ask good questions, not waste precious time discussing basic facts you could have found on the web. Asking open-ended questions, like “what kind of person is successful here?” is a much stronger conversation-starter than “do employees require a technical degree?”
Step 3: The Calculus of Conferences. If you are headed to an industry event to network, have a plan and follow it. Analyze the attendee or exhibitor list before you go, map the show floor, and follow your map to new meetings. If possible, send meeting requests before you leave, so you have some face- to-face chats lined up. A few simple tricks will make it easier for others to find and talk to you. Wear something bright, possibly quite bold. I have a rack of “Sharon’s conference jackets.” If I’m going someplace to network, I want to be easy to spot. Second, put your nametag on your right shoulder—don’t let it dangle down at your navel. People want to be able to read your nametag as they shake your hand. It’s loud, faces blur—make it easy for people you want to talk with to feel comfortable getting to know you.
Be personally present. Don’t shyly hide behind your phone. Make your visit worth it by being open to talking—or to asking open-ended questions, as I mentioned above. And, if you are just thrown into a giant clump of people at a cocktail party, you can always break the ice with conversational basics, then move on to business topics. It is OK to politely step away if it’s clear you and your chance encounter aren’t clicking.
Food is always a great networking draw; chat up the people you meet in the buffet line or the bar. At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, I met a very cool company by encouraging a group of tired attendees to share my table in a crowded cafeteria. We ended up hanging out for an hour comparing business models, and talking about entrepreneurs we knew. The time was productive for all of us, and we were all rejuvenated enough to dive back onto the show floor.
Via Entrepreneur : In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss the essential ways you should start promoting your business on social media.
The days of in-person networking are quickly being overpowered by connecting on the internet. In the past five years, connecting on social networking sites has rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of internet users. Now, instead of connecting at an in-person event, you can reach hundreds, even thousands, of potential customers online. Social networking can help you reach new markets and enhance your customer service.
In today’s networking space, it’s important to know how to choose whom to connect with online. There are two different types of networkers online—the posters and the seekers. Your business is a poster, which means you actively post valuable information, resources, tips, and offers. The seekers are your customers—they’re actively seeking your products or services. You’ll find seekers in discussion areas, forums, groups and engaging on fan pages.
When searching for quality contacts to network with online, start with connection sites, such as LinkedIn or Xing, and look for high-level networkers (HLN). You’ll know an HLN when you see one; they’re active online, have at least 500 connections and have powerful profiles, which means their profiles are set up completely. Make sure these contacts have at least one of the three criteria before you connect with them online. Some examples of HLNs would be decision makers, executives, the media, and the movers and shakers in your industry.
Don’t let the fact that you don’t yet know the person hold you back from sending an invite to connect. Simply be transparent, and let them know why you’d like to connect with them online. Whether you’re offering your help, sending them a resource or introducing them to one of your connections, make sure you make it about how you can help them and not how they can help you.
Target market connections (TMC) are a group of consumers at which your company aims its products and services. They’re found by using keywords in the search section on social sites as well as in groups and discussion areas in your area of interest or focus. TMCs are mostly seekers that chat and seek out information by posting questions online. In the most basic terms, they’re seeking you. The key is to join in the groups and discussions where your target market is talking and engage with them. You can also send them an invite to connect and let them know you sent them the invite because you have similar interests and you’re looking to expand your professional network. You can also find these groups in sites like LinkedIn. Search for groups that match what you have to contribute and then check to see which have not just the largest member numbers, but also the most active discussions.
Another way to find your target market online is to investigate competitors’ marketing methods. See where another business that offers the same or similar products and services advertises their links and posts on social sites. Be sure each location makes sense and has a large contingent of people in your targeted market. Searching in your field will often turn up places where your audience goes when they’re looking for something in your industry.
Groups and Discussions
Groups and discussion areas on social sites are all over the internet from LinkedIn and Xing to Twitter and Facebook. Most social networking sites have community areas for people who have similar interests to gather and connect. It’s important to find a dozen or so of these groups and discussion areas and not only join and monitor them but engage in the conversations as well.
Blogs are another type of discussion forum on the internet. Blogs are quickly becoming places to interact with your target market. Technorati, a site focused on helping people find great blogs and content specific to their industry or topic, manages a list of the top 100 blogs, which is a great place to find the world’s most popular blogs on subjects you’re interested in. Not only can you find connections and blogs on this site, but you can also list your own blog so that people can search and find you.
Blogs are a great way to find HLNs to connect with online as well as partner with. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you could connect with food and review writers, vendors that are blogging, or food enthusiasts, and share their posts and content on your site or blog. This not only builds relationships but can expose you to their markets, followers and fans.
With any social media platform, you need to be creative and find ways to provide value and engage your target market. One of the best ways to accomplish this and position yourself as an industry leader is to build and launch a Facebook fan page. Fans are enthusiastic, and if they like what they see and read, they’ll connect with you, become loyal supporters and tell their friends. This is how word-of-mouth will grow.
Once you get your fan page up and running, pay attention to your analytics, or what Facebook calls “Insights.” You can view specific demographic information, such as where your fans are from, their gender and their age. Monitor who’s becoming your fan, how they’re interacting and how often they’re posting. This will help you figure out who and where else you should be targeting online.
One of the main differences between a Facebook profile and a fan page is you can send bulk messages to all your fans. You can also “Suggest to Friends” that they join you on your fan page. It’s a great way to connect with your target market, especially since these are connections that have opted-in to become a part of your community.
Via LinkedIn : When starting a new business, it can often feel as if you’re all alone and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. This is especially true if your business is online, but it can feel like that if you’re starting any type of business. But, the truth is, you’re never really alone, you just have to seek out the relationships and go networking to build relations, rather than having them build in for you, like they are in paid employment. Here are some ways to build your business network when you’re just starting your business.
Over the years I’ve met some awesome and interesting people in online forums, gained lots of useful help, made lifelong friends and gained work. It’s easy to start, simply find forums consisting of people you want to start networking with and simply start discussions, answer questions, and be giving and by that I mean give freely of your own advice and help and others will do likewise if you need help. If you find someone you relate to, reach out to them privately, it could be the start of something rewarding.
You can find some really awesome groups sometimes called “inner circles” or mastermind groups which involve working with peers to support and learn from each other. Do a simple search on Facebook for your niche, or use Google Alerts or meet-ups to help you find a group. You can also ask people you already know if they know of any. Sometimes there is a fee to join the group, but consider the fee an investment into your business because being able to seek advice, freely from the people you trust is an invaluable resource.
Chamber of Commerce Events
I’ve been a member and board member of the Swan Chamber of Commerce for a lot of years now and I would advise anyone in business to join. Your local chamber of commerce is a great place to start trying to find networking events to attend. In most cases you can go to them for an added fee as a non-member before choosing to join. Look for “after hours” events to test out the organization to help you determine if it’s right for you and your business goals and get involved, the business fellowship is amazing.
If your business is involved in a specific field, or niche, look up any associated associations online. There are associations for almost any type of business under the sun, and there is likely one for you. It doesn’t matter what type of niche you’re in; you can usually find something. Check out the quality of the organization before joining to ensure it aligns with your values and goals.
Focused Business Events
Starting with a small, focused business event that is limited to just a few people can be helpful in getting your feet wet with larger networking events. Many smaller organizations put on business retreats that are very helpful for people who are nervous about larger events.
This is a great way to find local people who want to connect with people like you. If you don’t see something that fits your business, why not start your own informal Meetup event? You only need locations that will accommodate your needs and a good idea to attract people.
Business networking online and offline can be accomplished through the connections you make on LinkedIn, if you’re strategic about who you connect with. Don’t connect with those whom you cannot offer anything and who can’t offer you anything. Stay focused, and remember; “quality over quantity”.
Networking with Blog Commenters
If you’ve written a compelling blog post that gets comments that make you curious about the person, check out who made the comments and try to connect with them on social media. Once you have established a relationship, you can reach out to them for other ideas, events, and even joint venture partnerships.
Newsletter/Email List Sign-Ups
People who sign up for your email list or newsletter are prime candidates for networking. Plan a webinar, or even an in-person event, and invite your list members to it. Be sure to have an overall goal and theme for the event, whether online or offline.
Social Media Connections
Anyone you connect with on social media can be a prime candidate for more networking. Just make your networking goal oriented and focus on the quality of your connections and don’t just connect with anyone. Nothing is worse than getting those automatic, canned email responses from every person you follow or connect with. Don’t do that. Instead, take the time to get to know the person before reaching out and then you’ll really make connections.
Creating a working network of contacts that can help you, requires that you, not only connect in these many different ways, but also that you follow up with your connections in a way that makes sense. Just because someone “likes”, “follows” “connects” or even speaks to you at an event doesn’t make them a real part of your network. Following up and build a relationship with them. Take these connections and turn them into a true network and you into a networking master simply by reaching out to them, and answering the call to help them when asked too, that’s the secret to give rather than to take.
Via LinkedIn : This past week, I had the enjoyable opportunity to speak to the Fond du Lac County Imagination Network of Wisconsin entrepreneurs and inventors group. The topic was “Networking Doesn’t Have to Make You Cringe!” The comments and feedback from the attendees illustrated to me once again how intimidating networking can be to those who haven’t had some training, or at least exposure, to the basics of effective networking.
The things that cause us to avoid networking, or to do it poorly (i.e. with few results) usually result from our own “head trash”. These are the thoughts and fears we harbor that hold us back from doing those uncomfortable things that could actually bring us greater results. Some of the head trash thoughts that are typical include the following:
- Networking events are just for socializing. I get no business benefit from them.
- At networking events, it’s hard to have great conversations because of all the cliques that I’m not a part of.
- I’m not the pushy type, so I feel awkward about thrusting myself on other networkers.
- I don’t know how to tell people about my business in a way that piques their interest without dominating the conversation.
- I’m an introvert, so it’s hard for me to put myself “out there”.
Business owners often have an expectation that they should network, but they may not know why, or more importantly, how to go about it effectively. So the first thing we have to do, is realize that networking has an important business function, and that it is a vital part of your business’s marketing plan. Networking helps to generate leads, or find referral sources who will feed leads to you. It is an effective marketing tactic if you work it (think of it as net-WORK-ing). So the challenge most of us face is not knowing how to go about it in a way that gets us the results we expect from a good marketing tactic.
A good way to understand networking better is to go back to basics:
- Have a plan of attack – Consider what you want to get out of a networking event. How many business cards of new contacts do you want to collect? How many quality conversations will you have? How long will you spend “working” the event? Remember, networking events can easily deteriorate into a series of comfortable social conversations, which typically don’t do much for your business intentions.
- Be prepared – It’s amazing how many people don’t bring business cards to a networking event. Bring business cards and a pen (to jot down notes about contacts or your intended follow-up). Have a 30-second introduction! It’s important to be able to briefly state what your business is about in a way that is memorable, or that creates interest for the listener to learn more.
- Check your attitude – A positive, confident attitude does wonders for networking effectiveness. People want to be associated with people who look and sound pleasant and successful. Even if you’ve had a bad day, or facing a tough problem in your business, put it behind you for a couple of hours and act as if you are doing great.
- Use the perfect “pickup” line – In your dating days, you may have tried or heard a variety of corny pickup lines, but did you know that the best pickup line going is simply, “Hello, my name is _______”? The best way to introduce yourself to someone at a networking event is to simply, a) SMILE, b) stick out your handshake hand, and c) say, “Hi, my name is _______”. The beauty of this pickup line is that if you can’t remember it, you may find it written on your name tag!
- Ask questions. Don’t sell. – Ask about the other person(s). Ask about their business, their history, their family, their interests. Seek for ways that you might be able to help them. Make it all about them, not about you. But how will this help me attract interest in my business, you might ask. Well what happens is that by being genuinely interested in them, you will create the perception that you like them, and they in turn will begin to know, like and trust you. Eventually, they will ask about you, and you’ll have a chance to tell them about your business in a way that appeals to their business interests because of what you’ve learned.
- Focus – Be engaged with the person you’re speaking with. Focus on them, and try not to be distracted by the other activity and people around you. Good networking conversations only last 5-10 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to connect with others in the room.
- Ask for referrals – Every person you speak to may not be a good lead for your business, but they will be a potential source of a good referral. Ask them who they know who might be interested in your products and services.
- Followup – Don’t waste the fruits of your networking efforts. Followup by scheduling another get-together, or add them to your contact or newsletter lists.
Networking can occur almost anywhere and is an effective marketing tactic for all businesses, if done right. It doesn’t cost much, other than your time, it builds your personal brand, and expands your network of contacts. I love the following quote from Graham Southwell, National Director of BNI New Zealand: “Networking is all about farming… not hunting. Some people may take pride in being a hunter, but in today’s competitive business environment emphasis needs to be on creating strong connections with other business people. Networking needs to come from the heart – not the head…. The truth is, using your head to network means you are too focused on the outcome and not cultivating relationship. Cultivation is the key concept, as great networkers are farmers, not hunters.”
Owner of Baltus Group, LLC – Business Coach
Sheboygan, Wisconsin AreaManagement Consulting