Networking may not be all that thrilling. In fact, it can sometimes be downright boring – or terrifying if you don’t exactly enjoy meeting complete strangers at stuffy events. Unfortunately, networking is a big deal. How else can you expect to meet people who can help your business by either offering a mentorship or at least putting you in touch with the people who can steer you in the right direction?
Whether you like it not, you have to network. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be just exchanging business cards and making pointless small talk. Besides expanding your professional network, sometimes networking can actually be fun as well. Regardless if it’s strictly professional or just enjoying a cocktail party following an industry event, here are 6 ways to network more effectively.
1. Networking is a Two-Way Street
Here’s one of the most important things to remember when it comes to networking; it’s a two-way street. This means that whenever you meet someone, you need to ask them as much as possible regarding their business, as well as informing them them about yours. Always begin the conversion with the basics – your name, your company, affiliation, position, etc. Following the introductions and exchanging of basic information, you could ask the following questions:
- · What products or services does your company offer?
- · Who are your clients?
- · Who is in charge of the buying decisions?
- · How are you different from the competition?
2. Evaluate Your Contacts
Try all you might, there’s no possible way to network with everyone in your niche. That’s why it’s important to filter through your contacts to see who is worth establishing a relationship with. You can do this by asking yourself whether or not you can help each other. Keep in mind that you present yourself as a problem solver, and not just another name in their address book. And you should be looking for someone who has the same traits.
Another way to evaluate your contacts is by taking a look back at people from your past. Was there someone in high school or college that now has an extensive network that is beneficial to you? It wouldn’t hurt to reach out to someone from your past and catch-up. There could be a valuable contact only one introduction away.
Get yourself out there. Take up something like golf or a cooking class to meet new people who have similar interests as you. If you’re stuck on ideas, you could visit Groupon for suggestions. You could also consider finding out where like-minded people like you are spending their time. As you’re probably aware, every city has the bars, coffee shops or restaurants that cater to different groups. If you’re in PR, for example, then find out the locations where all the PR professionals hangout. Remember, people are more relaxed in social settings, so it’s one of the best chances to strike up a conversation.
Another chance to network is by volunteering or attending a fundraiser. Both are great ways to meet with members of the neighborhood, discuss yourself or company and show that you’re behind a cause.
4. Always Get a Second Date
Whether it’s a fundraiser or industry event, it can get a bit overwhelming when making the rounds and introducing yourself to professionals you’ve never met before. And, even if there was a great first introduction, it’s difficult to gauge if that contact is worth continuing a relationship because time is probably limited. This is why it’s important to secure a second meeting.
But, you don’t want to ask everyone in the room to lunch, dinner or cup of coffee. You want to strike up a conversation and see if there’s potential with this individual. If you don’t think that person is a good fit, then keep breaking the ice until you do find someone that sparks your interest. Once you do, make sure that you you get their contact information so that you can set-up a second meeting in the future.
5. Spend Time Social Networking
This doesn’t mean that you have to let social networking consume your life. What it means is that you should use social networking to your advantage. For example, if there is an upcoming conference, you could use everything from LinkedIn to a company website to learn information prior to meeting people who interest you. You could then follow up with that person via Twitter or LinkedIn.
Another benefit of social networking is by sharing or creating relevant articles that your audience would find informative. Also make sure to join in discussions and answer or ask questions. Not only does this make you a member of a community, it also can also help establish you as an authority figure in your field.
“Surround yourself with smarter people” says Francisco Cruz who has helped grow the Startup Grind community into a 100+ city startup networking company. Cruz later stated “I feel like I will never be as awesome or as smart as those near me. And with that constantly hovering around your head it makes you strive to become better.”
6. Nurture and Maintain Strategic Relationships
After spending time networking both online and offline, you’ve probably accumulated a good number of contacts. However, if you’re looking to establish a meaningful relations, such as a mentor, then you need to be just a little picky. Ideally, you should be limiting yourself to 5 to 10 strategic relationships. When constructing these relationships you want to make sure that you keep in touch on a regular basis and that the interaction was worth their time – sharing a relevant article or a career update would be examples of quality interactions.
Also remember that as your contact base increases you will have to do a little re-evaluation. You may realize that someone who was important last year isn’t as important as someone you just met. However, that’s no excuse to burn bridges. You still want to check-in with that person from time to time because you never know when that person could be of assistance again.
This article was written by Drew Hendricks from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.