Whether you are looking for a new job, climbing the ladder at your current position, seeking new clients and customers, or trying to find new sources for referrals, you are going to have to do some networking. If you are an introvert, this prospect may leave you paralyzed with fear. For some of us, that fear is crippling, for others, is an annoyance. Whatever may go through your mind when you think about networking, know this, it really doesn't have to be so bad.
Networking is one of those sports where you usually get as much out of it as you are willing to put in. As a former introvert myself, I can assure you that you can come to terms with networking and be incredibly good at it. The trick is not to jump in head first, but to take things a step at a time. Over time, by building your skills and putting yourself in good networking situations, you will build confidence and learn what works best for you.
Following is some advice and suggestions to help you on your way.
Have a game plan
One of the biggest mistakes people make when networking is that they do not prepare. For some reason, everyone thinks they know how to network. Unfortunately, I'm continually reminded that networking does not come naturally for most people. So, before you go to a networking event, make sure you do the following first:
Define your goals – Before anything else, decide what you are trying to get out of networking, why do you want to network in the first place? Are you looking for a job, new business, referrals or something else? Set goals and focus your efforts on achieving those outcomes.
Practice introducing yourself – Make sure you are comfortable telling people who you are and what you do. Practice this until it becomes as natural as breathing. The aim is not to repeat the same phrase over and over, get away from repeating the same elevator pitch over and over, you want to sound natural not robotic.
Ask interesting questions – Avoid questions with simple answers. If you ask a lawyer, "What do you do?" the conversation will go pretty flat, lawyers are lawyers for the most part. If you ask a lawyer, "What's a typical day like in your line of work?" it gives them the chance to say what they do, but leaves room to say much more.
Get some experience
If you are totally new to networking, and you are just not sure how to go about it or where to get some experience, join a group on Meetup.com. There are interest groups of all sorts, so find a topic that will interest you. Try to choose a group that isn't too big or overwhelming. Attend some meetings and try to get to know at least two to three new people each time. Notice, I did not say "work the room," I said "get to know." The first thing you need to know about networking is that it's not a game, you do not go to events to collect cards, you go to meet people and forge new relationships. It's about building trust and showing people who you are, in the hope that they will take an interest in you and that you can get to know each other better. If you are flittering around the room, you won't be able to do that.
Safety in Numbers
Okay, once you've gone to a few meetups, you should be feeling more comfortable around people you don't know. Now it's time to pick a business focused networking event. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or a professional organization that you'd like to join. Find out when their meetings are and if guests are allowed to participate to learn more about the group. Then pick a friend, and ask them to attend with you. Your friend is there to be your networking partner, so pick someone you know who is good at networking. Ask them to help you by drawing you into the conversation when you go quiet, or being sure to give you hints or reminders about important points that pertain to you or your experience. Basically, you are looking for a friend to help get you in and keep you in the game.
This is the most important step of all. You have to follow-up with the people you meet. Remember when I said the goal is not to "work the room"? This is why: In order to make meaningful connections with people, you have to carry the initial encounter outside of the networking event. This requires follow-through. I usually start with a simple contact email to say ,"nice to have met you and here is my contact information, looking forward to see you again." This is then followed up by a second email, a day or two after meeting a new contact, the second mail is much more detailed and personal and usually, there is a call to action, like "let's do lunch."
I assure you that if you approach networking with intention and purpose, you will find, in time, that networking pays off. I have found in the past 27 years, that networking has brought me tons of business, but more importantly, it's also brought me some great friendships. I try to follow a simple rule: the more interest you show in others, the more interest they will show in you.
HAVE BRYON SPEAK TO YOUR GROUP ABOUT NETWORKING!
Bryon has presented at the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, the Bonita Springs Area Chamber Commerce, the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals and the Entrepreneur Society of America - Naples, FL Chapter about networking. Please fill out the information below if you would like Bryon to speak to your group about networking.
Bryon McCartney is a managing partner and creative director at Be Brilliant™ Marketing! a branding, design, marketing, social media and web design agency based in Fort Myers, Florida. His work and experience has taken him around the globe, working with clients ranging from local entrepreneurs to global, Fortune 100 companies. Follow him on Twitter @BrilliantBryon or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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