Every business is built on connections—which means that building your business is, in many ways, all about knowing how to network effectively. Honing the skills that help you find new customers, build relationships with peers, and stay on top of industry trends will help keep your company going strong, year after year.
This edition of our Blue Papers® is about making the most of networking opportunities: from the moment you tell someone your name (and try to remember theirs) to sharing company promotional giveaways to following up and keeping in touch.
Benefits of networking
Although most people network to build business, reframing your networking experiences by asking yourself “How can I benefit the other people in the room?” will help you get the most value out of each event. Thinking about networking this way makes it easier to focus on how you can build your business beyond giving a sales pitch.
- Attending seminars increases industry knowledge, allowing you to provide improved services to your customers.
- Building your network at an event means that your business will have more opportunities to help others through your products and services.
- Meeting with people in your industry gives you the opportunity to get advice on subjects related to your business—which you can pass on to customers or other peers.
Ready, set, network
While attending events and meeting new people might seem like a simple process, going to networking gatherings with no plans beyond shaking a few hands may prevent you from making the most of your time. Try some of these tips to maximize outcomes:
Choose a goal
With so many possible networking benefits, knowing what you want to get out of a gathering can help you optimize your time. Setting a goal also allows you to track the success of networking meetings. If, for example, your goal is to meet five new potential customers, it’ll be easier to pinpoint which people you want to meet and how much time you can spend with each of them.
Decide ahead of time if you want to:
- Find industry partners
- Seek out new customers
- Learn about new developments in your industry
- Discover other opportunities, like community volunteer opportunities
Pick a place to network
Now that you’ve determined your goals, start seeking out events that can help you achieve them. To find relevant networking events:
- Ask colleagues which networking events they find useful.
- Check social media and online networking sites like Meetup® or Eventbrite®.
- Check into alumni, affinity and local organizations that provide general networking opportunities.
Have a contact information plan
When you head to a networking event, make sure to have plenty of business cards or company promotional items, like a Lip Moisturizer Keychain, to hand out. Nine out of 10 company owners say they have generated business by handing out cards. And 44% say if they were to hand out 100 cards, it would result in $5,000 per year in revenue.
Also, have a plan to capture all the contact information people give you. Networking time goes by quickly—it’s easy to stick a business card in a pocket or write down someone’s phone number on a napkin only to end up misplacing it by the end of the evening. Store cards and notes in an envelope or business card wallet.
Brigham Young University in Utah tries to give its students the tools they need to network effectively with future employers. Among the items they give away are university branded pens. During the school’s annual networking event, students are equipped—literally—to capture contact information that can help them land internships and other career opportunities. “We have various alumni and employers in the area come to meet the students,” said Department Secretary of Public Health Tanya Gale. “So, we have a lot of pens on hand.”
Get your name out there
Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Making sure you remember the names of the people you meet—and that they remember yours—is critical to successful networking.
To make it easier to recall these names in the future, try one of the following tricks:
- Pay attention: Before you ask for someone’s name, make sure you’re ready to listen—and then repeat their name back to them.
- Build an image: Associate the name with a “visual”—for example, if you meet a Lisa, picture the Mona Lisa. And provide anyone you meet with a visual to help them remember your name.
- Review: At the end of a networking event, picture the faces of the people you met and practice recalling their names.
Woodson Engineering & Surveying in Flagstaff, Arizona, uses a wooden engineering ruler as a company promotional giveaway at networking events, creating a unique and memorable way to help people recall the company’s name. “It has specific measurements that are pretty interesting if you know what you’re looking at. And they’re good to have around just to exchange information,” said Administrative Assistant Pam Arthur.
Be your own publicist
With many people to meet and limited time to get to know them, it’s important to create a two- to three-sentence introduction that explains what you do and includes something that makes you stand out. That could be an interesting project you worked on or another business-related accomplishment.
It can also be useful to have other talking points top of mind, like recent developments in the industry or even a great book you just read.
Once you’ve shared your information, focus on the person you’re networking with. Remember, the goal of networking is to find ways to benefit other people in the room—which you can only discover by giving your full attention to others.
- Ask questions—and follow up their answer with more questions.
- When you exchange business cards, write down important information they shared on their card so you can remember it.
- Make eye contact at least 60% of the time—this promotes emotional connection and facilitates effective networking.
Meet new people and move on
Networking sometimes turns into long conversations, which may be valuable but will also keep you from meeting others. When you meet someone, spend 5-10 minutes getting to know them and then move on to help you accomplish your networking goals.
- Get a card: Asking for a business card and promising to get in touch is a great way to close off a discussion.
- Offer an introduction: Introducing your new contact to others can help you move on while both of you accomplish networking goals—making it a win-win-win situation.
- Make plans: Since a first meeting is just the start of networking, setting a time to talk again is a great way to continue building a relationship. After all, nearly 100% of people feel face-to-face meetings are critical for maintaining long-term business relationships.
When you’re building a network, the process doesn’t end once an event is over. In fact, it’s just beginning. Continue the networking process by:
- Asking them how they prefer to keep in touch, whether it’s on the phone, via email or on social media, like LinkedIn® or Twitter®.
- Getting in touch within the next 48 hours to ensure they remember you.
- Sharing information that reminds them of your conversation, like an industry article related to a topic you were discussing.
When you know how to network effectively, every encounter becomes an opportunity. With every new connection, you’ll create and discover new ways to build your company.