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Networking- either you love it or you hate it. When we refer to the idea of networking, keep in mind that we aren't necessarily referring to sitting behind your computer. We mean getting up, getting out, and meeting people. With at least 70% to 80% of all employment opportunities not published, alongside the constant need for small business owners to make themselves known beyond a computer screen, networking is not optional anymore. It has become a skill that we all must master. Before you find yourself anxiety-ridden, know that networking is a process that not only has steps but nooks and crannies and tips and tricks of the trade. If you've ever wondered how to even begin networking, you've come to the right place!
1. Network When You Don’t Need It
You should not wait to begin networking with others until you are in crisis mode. Crisis mode could be your need to find a job yesterday, to acquire a certain number of customers for your business, or the need to find an investor. In any of those scenarios, you are likely going to cross paths with people who have spent many hours networking. With those hours comes experience and with experience comes their ability to sense desperation. Try your very best to enter these situations with the mentality that you will be fine if you leave with 50 new contacts or zero. Changing your mindset is more valuable than you likely realize.
2. Go With a Plan
If you're attending a career fair, some will tell you that the most important things you can do are dress the part and have a well-written resume. If you're attending a general networking mixer, you may also be encouraged to have your business plan in tow. These things are important, but what is more important is your ability not only to articulate your skills but how you will add value to the situation. A component of this comes from having the infamous 30-second elevator pitch polished. Talk briefly about yourself and what you bring to the table, end your statement with a question, and have talking points in your head to keep things flowing. Before you get to chatting, have a goal in mind of how many connections you would like to leave the event with. Be kind (and realistic) with yourself in the beginning.
Read next: 7 Smart Habits for Small Business Owners
3. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Going off the heels of having a plan, you don't want to enter a networking event dead set on only being there for one reason. Sure, you may be there because you are actively looking for employment. Perhaps you hope to cross paths with someone you traditionally would not have access to, never mind the opportunity to actually have a conversation. Either scenario is an error on your part. Remember that you are there to be open, friendly, and helpful. If you find yourself stuck on what to say to people, try to keep in mind what Dale Carnegie talks about in his book "How to Win Friends and Influence People:" engage people in talking about the one thing they love to talk about: themselves.
4. See the Value in Everyone
You walk into a networking event, and the first person you meet is Sally who is a receptionist at XYZ Company. While she introduces herself to you, you may find yourself seemingly fixated on one word: receptionist. Don't allow yourself to become fixated on the title of people you meet. When you do that, you automatically devalue that person solely because of their job title. Every person you meet is an opportunity for you to learn something new or to connect with new people.
5. Figure Out How to Be Helpful
As your conversation with someone begins to wind down, consider going against the traditional handshake and thanking them for their time by asking them if there is anything that you can do for them. So many people attend networking events with the purpose of extracting information from others. What if you were more helpful or attempted to add more value to someone else's life? You may not be able to help the people you speak with at that moment, but you will have left a great impression upon them.
More by Adriana Clifford: How Do I Find a Business Mentor or Coach?
6. Know Yourself and the Environment
Societal norms are a funny thing. Some people feel you should start your day before the sun comes up, others do their best work in the evening. Before you attend a networking event, you need to determine what environment works best for you. If you are not a morning person, why would you attend a networking breakfast? Don't attend events because you think it will look good that you are up and at an event. Attend events that comfortably work for you. Know the value that the event will bring to you as an attendee. Ask yourself questions like "is the atmosphere right for my personality type” and “are the other attendees going to bring opportunities to connect?"
In the early stages of honing your skills as a networking connoisseur, you may say yes to every invitation that comes your way. I caution you though, pace yourself. The same way you set yourself up for success at the onset of each day should be used when it comes to networking. Let's say that you have spent the bulk of your workday in face-to-face meetings. Where do you think your energy level will be at the end of the day? If you said low, I'd be inclined to agree. Attending a networking event when you are running on fumes will not allow you to be as successful as you could have otherwise been.
8. Be Selective
I am going to state the obvious: everyone is different. Sometimes though, we forget this when we commit to attending a networking event. Some people love a loud, crowded environment. Others prefer a quiet atmosphere that is relaxing and non-stimulating. Myself, I fall in the middle of a reasonably active room but not to the point where I cannot hear what other people are saying. You need to know what environment brings out the best in you and seek out networking opportunities within those venues.
9. Collect Business Cards (and use them)
I know that technology is at the epicenter of all we do these days, but the business card is still very much so a significant player in all of this. When you receive someone's business card, don't just put it in your pocket; use them to take notes! As you discuss what opportunities they have or what you may be able to do for them, take notes on the back of their business card. By doing this, you set yourself up for success in remembering your conversation with them when you contact them after the event.
10. Follow Up
Not following up with people is, unfortunately, what most people tend to do. If you aren't going to follow up with people, then why attend? Connect with them on LinkedIn or another social media platform. Or you could send them an email. Your email does not have to be long winded or fancy. It could be something as simple as:
“Hi [INSERT NAME],
We met at [INSERT EVENT NAME] on [INSERT DATE]. I would love the opportunity to speak with you in more detail about [INSERT CONVO TOPIC, PROJECT NAME OR OPPORTUNITY]. Thank you for your time.”
See, following up is easy!
Some of this may be a lot to take in. But after a while, networking becomes part of your lifestyle. You maintain it the same way you would a friendship, for example. Keep a spreadsheet of all those contacts you meet and set a reminder for yourself to look at your list weekly. As you view it, ask yourself if there is anything you could do at that moment to grow your connection.
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This communication is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be an advertisement, a solicitation, or constitute professional advice, including legal, financial, or tax advice, nor is StreetShares providing advice on any particular situation.