As a business owner, you understand the importance of a strong network of contacts. Like any other skill, networking takes practice. Michael Shipman, vice president of talent development at Rockland Trust, shares five basic, but essential, networking tips:
Manage Your Expectations
Networking is not one and done. It is the intentional building of relationships and requires time and energy. Think of networking like a good stew – the longer you cook it, the better it turns out. Rushing the networking process will not garner the results you want. You need to be in it for the long haul.
You may not see an immediate benefit from attending a networking event, but that is okay. In fact, you should not expect an immediate return. Instead, focus on supporting others and making connections. Committing to these relationships long-term can then lead to opportunities for your business.
Have a Game Plan
If the thought of introducing yourself to a room of strangers has you breaking into a cold sweat, you definitely want to create a game plan. And even if you’re a successful and seasoned networker, Michael suggests formulating a strategy for every event you attend.
First, consider how to present yourself. “At a networking event, you or your employees are ambassadors for your company. This is where well communicated and reinforced company values serve you well. It gives you an idea of how to conduct yourself and a plan to work off of,” said Michael.
Next, develop an achievable goal for the event. Do you want to have a quality conversation with three new people, or collect 10 business cards? Knowing what your goal is will help you think through a strategic plan to make the most of the event.
If you’re arriving at an event with colleagues, a plan is especially important. Instead of huddling with the people you came with, be sure you talk to those you don’t know. Discuss ahead of time how you and your colleagues will work the room to ensure you maximize your networking potential.
Be Present and Take an Interest
People prefer talking with someone who has a presence. But what does that mean?
Having a noticeable presence means really listening and engaging with the person you’re having a conversation with. No one likes talking to someone who is constantly looking over their shoulder, for instance, because it indicates that you aren’t interested in your current conversation. Michael suggests taking a lesson from improvisational comedy: build onto what your conversation partner is saying. Using “Yes, and…” as a model will help you to build a rapport.
You also should be wary of falling into too much self-promotion. The goal of networking is to get to know another person, not to talk about yourself or your business because the specific benefits your business derives are a long-term product of successful networking. Asking about their hobbies or interests can help you develop long-lasting relationships.
In an effort to get to know your conversation partner, think beyond surface questions and pleasantries. Find a connection and something you can pick up on, like sharing an emotion. Something as simple as “Wasn’t the sunset on the way here beautiful?” can give you a universal shared experience that forms a relationship.
Ask yourself if you can be a connector or someone who brings people together. Maybe the person you’re talking to has something in common with your colleague or a peer business could help them with a problem. By facilitating those relationships, you build good will and accumulate more social capital.
Connect with the Speaker
Be sure to exchange ideas and relate to the speaker, who likely has a vast amount of knowledge or experience that may differ from your own. Take care not to monopolize their time, but do make sure to meet and get their contact information.
Commit to Your Follow Up
Throughout the event, collect business cards or contact information. LinkedIn is a great resource for connecting with those you meet at these types of events. Michael suggests writing a personalized message when you invite the person to connect. Use it as a touch point to nurture your relationship by picking up on where your conversation left off, or offer to make an introduction.
Plan to stay in touch regularly with your network. For example, make an effort to send personalized notes out once a quarter to your contacts. These do not have to be business-oriented, but can be on a personal level, asking about their hobby or letting them know about an interesting article you read that may interest them. Treating relationships with respect and care will take you a long way.
Relationships are integral to who we are at Rockland Trust. We understand business owners and what they need. Check out our Learning Center for other helpful articles with tips and tricks for running your business. We’re also happy to discuss your business’s financial goals - let us know how we can help you reach them!
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