I network a lot. I have to, we all do. Networking is often the first introduction someone will have to you and your company, and it’s also something that can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. But if you go in with a plan, you’ll feel more confident and relaxed. Let’s look at a few ways to approach networking.
Plan, Plan, Plan…
I spend a nice chunk of time learning about who will be present at the next networking event, and why I need to talk to them. I typically will review LinkedIn profiles, bios and even ask around about particular people or organizations ahead of time. This information gathering allows me to identify key targets and prepare specific questions for certain people. I know it’s a lot of work, but it gives me an opportunity to create a targeted conversation with someone who could potentially be a value-add to my network.
Know Where You Stand
Networking provides a great opportunity to know more about what’s happening in the marketplace and with competitors. Sure, you can do an internet search to find some of this information, but often times people will give you additional details that are useful to you and your company. A real example of when a conversation made a difference occurred when I met someone who had developed a similar product to my company’s product. We had no idea something similar existed. It wasn’t exactly like ours, but it was interesting to learn about their process to launch the product. In addition, insights on what had worked and what hadn’t turned out to be great information to have. This level and detail of information was not available online. What’s even more important is understanding that this information would not have been uncovered without networking.
Get Your Name Out There
Not every networking event will be perfect. Sometimes you’ll find that the crowd is not the perfect fit for you and/or your company. In this situation, there is still a silver lining. You can use the time to focus on building your brand and to practice your sales pitch. I recently attended an event where the other attendees were not necessarily the target audience for Contineo, inQUEST’s new D&I Training Game. I recognized this quickly and instead focused on meeting as many people as I could to talk about inQUEST and Contineo. It turns out that this was the perfect environment to just practice. I met some interesting people and organizations that are a better fit as strategic partners or vendors. You have to be flexible and leverage each situation to “Get Your Name Out There.”
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
You get back to the office and you’ve got a pocket full of cards – now what? Don’t shove them in a drawer. Go through them right away and follow up with the people you had a connection with.
Doing it right away is important because you will forget—and they will forget you.
In that case, you will spend a lot of time trying to reintroduce yourself. Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are great in helping you reconnect. Small things like an updated profile picture or a quick note about the networking event can help make a quick connection. You should also send a formal email to set up an invitation to meet for coffee or to have a quick call. What’s important is that you quickly establish another connection point to keep you fresh in their minds. Trust me, people love to meet and talk about what they are doing. Leverage these opportunities to hear more about them and assess if the person is a good fit for your network.
There’s the business side to networking, but there’s also a pretty good chance you’ll make some friends along the way. You will meet some people with similar backgrounds and interests and you will meet some who are completely different than you (and that’s OK, too!). Your network is a source of information and should therefore be diverse. Use this as an opportunity to make personal and professional friends.
Your network is your own source of human capital.
These are people you can tap into for different ideas, people who can help see or know things you didn’t see or know before.These are people who can help you excel in every avenue of life.
If you’re not the most outgoing person, that’s OK. Just like anything else, you will get better with practice. Remember that networking is something we all have to do, and if you plan ahead, stay focused and follow up where you see promise, it will become a natural part of your personal and professional work… and you may have a little fun in the process.