I couldn’t help thinking how wrong the two young men were. I overheard their conversation while standing right behind them waiting for a traffic light to change at King and Bay in the heart of the Toronto financial district. One had remarked that his father was constantly urging him to do more networking, but the young man said he thought that networking was passé; and the other seemed to agree with him.
Networking still is a cost-effective and efficient marketing tool. Networking can be even more important in non-marketing situations, such as when you need to hire a key person or when looking for a job yourself. Networking is far from passé; in fact, in today’s business climate it’s probably more important than ever. And the internet, particularly with its social media capabilities, makes networking more cost-effective and efficient than it has ever been.
But to be an effective networker you have to avoid three common mistakes.
The first is thinking that networking is selfish. Appropriate networking is a perfectly acceptable professional activity which can be beneficial for all concerned. If you’re networking appropriately you’re just as apt to help someone else achieve a goal as you are to help yourself to do so.
The second mistake is giving up too soon. Although you might reap an early reward, you’re not apt to. Networking takes a combination of time, effort, diplomacy and tact.
The third is failing to understand how to network appropriately, which is what the rest of this column is about.
You have to have a networking plan, covering such items as which organizations you’re going to join, how often you’re going to lunch with people and with whom, how many and which events you’re going to attend, and how you can best use social media.
When considering the role of industry and trade organizations or service clubs in your networking plan, remember that it’s far better to actively work one organization than to passively belong to five. You have to be quick to volunteer, particularly to serve on committees.
You need to diplomatically gather useful data about the people in your network. As already alluded to, appropriate networking includes watching for opportunities to help other people in your network, and to do this you need to know as much about them as possible. You must also tactfully let them know what your strengths and interests are.
Especially diligent networkers keep a “last contact” note for everyone in their network, indicating when, how and why the contact took place, what was discussed, any follow-ups required, and when and how the next contact should be made.
A lot of effective networking takes place by phone, text and email. But you never want to become a pest. Contact people in your network only when there’s a valid reason to do so. And “just touching base” is not a valid reason; an invitation to lunch or to an event is, as would a legitimate request for information or advice. Forwarding items of interest to people can be useful, but avoid forwarding information that they’re likely to already have.
Watch for opportunities to drop a personal note to people in your network, such as a birthday, anniversary or an accomplishment of theirs that you’ve heard about. In these situations hand-written notes on good quality stationery stand out and are superior to emails, calls or texts.
Re-evaluate your network on a regular basis; not everyone you meet should become (nor, for that matter, necessarily remain) a part of your network.
Conferences, conventions, cocktail parties and receptions are prime networking opportunities, but are not always handled effectively. Most people make their first mistake as soon as they walk into the room; they look for people they already know. That’s not networking, that’s visiting.
What you should do is look for a person who is standing off alone. That person has an immediate need that you can fill. He or she is very likely feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable and will welcome someone to talk to, if for no other reason than to feel less conspicuous. That’s who you should head for, introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation. Even if the other person is waiting for someone to arrive, you can’t lose. You’ve already met someone new (for whom you’ve done a favour) and when the awaited person arrives you’ll be given another introduction. If there’s no one standing off by themselves it’s fine to join people you already know, but keep your peripheral vision peeled for a lonely arrival and head for that person as soon as you politely can.
As already emphasized, it’s best to approach a single person, and although it’s fine to approach a group of three or more, stay away from pairs. You may be a saviour to the single person standing off in the corner, and simply another person in a group, but to two people already engaged in a conversation you’re an interruption; so stay away unless waved over, or someone else joins them. You might also consider playing the lonely waif yourself and gamble on someone approaching you so that you can work the technique in reverse.
Never go to an event without a good supply of business cards, some paper and a pen.
People tend to keep business cards (some have drawers full of them) and most people actually refer to them from time to time. Even if they’re just going through their business cards to decide which ones to keep they’ll see yours, and if you made a good impression they’ll keep the card. If the people you’re talking to don’t ask for a business card by the time you’re about to move on, ask for one of theirs and offer one of yours in return. Be on the lookout for reasons to give people your business card, such as writing the title of a book you’ve recommended on the back of it, or the name of a restaurant you’re recommending. Remember, every time someone looks at your business card it refreshes their memory of you.
You need paper and pen to make notes on what you’ve learned about the people you’ve met. Some of this information will be on their business cards, but you need to make notes about spouses, children, hobbies and recreation, what they like to read, the kind of music they like, what sports they follow, and perhaps birthdays and anniversaries. (Incidentally, these are all good topics of conversation, but steer clear of religion and politics.). Make these notes while the information is still fresh in your mind; the only thing worse than not having any information is having the wrong information. Perhaps a visit to the washroom before you leave the event will afford you the chance. Make some notes before you go to bed that night. You can properly organize and expand them the next day.
Throughout the entire event you need to look, act, and sound like a person who’s worth knowing. Always dress just a little better than the occasion calls for; being overdressed can be as damaging as being underdressed.
There are also some things you most assuredly should not do.
Don’t get into a feeding or drinking frenzy. You can’t possibly be at your best balancing a drink and a plate of food, while frantically stuffing another sausage roll into your mouth at the same time as trying to brush off the crumbs that are polka-dotting your clothes. Not exactly the best image to convey.
Don’t sit; people won’t think you’re tired from a hard day’s work, they’ll just think you’re lazy. Even if you’re still suffering from that skiing accident, you’ll get more kudos and attention leaning on your crutches than you will slumped on a chair with people tripping over your cast.
Don’t hold your drink in your right hand. Not only does it mean you’ll have to shift it to shake hands, but you’ll also be offering a cold, damp, clammy hand.
Finally, don’t wait for things to happen; make them happen.