Successful business people understand the value of networking. Whether you own your business or you are an employee, networking is essential and you need to create a way to manage the events. Here are some strategies to help you make the most of your networking time:
- Always be thinking of how you can connect someone to another to fill a need they have. For example, if you are at your child’s dance practice, and another parent asks for the name of a good hair stylist, you would very likely name yours if you were happy. It’s the same way in business networking—sharing and giving freely.
- Consider what the person tells you they do, and try to learn more so you can suggest a connection or make a referral. For example, I was networking last week and saw a person I had met once before who retails quality handbags. In the time since we had met, I had made a connection with a person running a designer consortium for up and coming handbag designers. I asked her if that was a good potential connection for her. She was excited about the possibility, but even if she didn’t want the introduction, it is the offer and the thoughtfulness that makes it memorable.
- Sharing opportunities come up all the time, but you have to listen and reflect. Don’t be on a quest to meet everyone attending an event, but maximize your time getting to know two or three people’s needs at a time. You likely won’t have time for a substantive conversation with too many people during one networking session.
- Just as with your friends, do not expect anything in return. The gesture will be returned to you tenfold, but not always when and where you expect it. The saying “give to get” is so true in networking—it doesn’t have to be your money, just your brainpower.
- Next, leverage the power of social networking channels to stay in touch. Connect with those you meet on LinkedIn, Facebook, PInterest, Google+, Twitter—whatever networks you use. Sending a connection request or following on a social channel sends a message that you want to remain connected.
- Do this in a manageable way. If you regularly monitor Facebook and/or LinkedIn, be sure to read your feeds and see what they are doing. If you see something worth commenting or sending a message, do so. Did they receive an award, or are they speaking somewhere? I would not bite off using more social channels than you can comfortably visit a few times a week, or you can easily wind up wasting way too much time.
- Follow up by email immediately. Do not assume they kept your card or that they remember you. Remind them how/where you met and mention you want to continue to help develop a good business relationship.
- Follow up by phone. You don’t need a one-on-one session with everyone you meet—you can be far more productive if you have a follow up call. These are much more personal than connection on a social network, because you don’t necessarily know their level of activity on those networks.
- Accept that you can’t go to everything. That includes during the workday as well as evening or weekend events. You will certainly kiss some toads along the way, but learning to eliminate groups that do not feel right or comfortable is a big step. You can ask your connections about events that conflict with your personal or family commitments to determine beforehand if the event will be worthwhile. You could even delegate a meeting to trusted employee. Also, sometimes a particular group simply might not work for you—not everything will be a perfect fit. I personally do not attend a lunch group more than twice if I find that people come in, sit at their tables, eat and leave without networking. I don’t go for the rubber chicken, and neither should you.
- Learn to let go and delegate! Women are notorious for feeling they must do everything perfectly. Many tasks can be delegated, modified, or even disregarded, whether that’s at home or at work. Develop the ability to say no. Again this is a valuable skill both in business and in personal life. Pick and choose where you agree to participate, and politely decline those things that do not fit you, your business, or your life.
- Do make sure you find people you enjoy being as you network. It should be fun and energizing, and being around like-minded enthusiastic people makes it more enjoyable and relaxing. Create a group of women who lunch together for networking and fun on a regular, if not frequent, basis. This type of group will grow organically, because they tend to be very flexible and forgiving and are not bound be a specific meeting date or speaker structure.
Life is a balancing act—sometimes business takes center stage, and, more frequently for women, sometimes family does. But, you need to prioritize, delegate, decide, and decline so you can accomplish your goals, both for work and family, and yourself.