Don’t Listen to Your Mother – Talk to Strangers

By Maureen Kanwischer
Momentum Business Consulting

We all know someone who seems to have no trouble at all talking to new people at networking events. They’re open, candid, polished, and they seem to know everyone! Some people are a little more introverted. They hide in the corner, stand with a defensive posture, avoid eye contact and stick to the one person they know. So why attend a networking event if you’re not actually going to network? Perhaps they’re not aware of the value of networking; perhaps they just don’t know how to go about it. The bottom line is that networking is an important element of our marketing mix and should be managed as such.

Networking is crucial for any business for several different reasons: it can be the source of excellent referrals; it can establish your product or service to potential buyers; and, it can lead to very important partnerships which may help to grow your business.

A great definition of networking is this: Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. Networking may not be “second nature” to some of us, but there is a direct connection between the level of effort you put into networking and the results you get out of it – even when it seems like the results are completely unrelated to your efforts. Here are few tips for effective networking:

Keep your goal in sight. Remember that the purpose of networking is to network – not to sell. How many times have you left a networking event and said to yourself: “Well, that was a waste of time! I didn’t sell anything!” By reminding yourself that you’re there to increase your pool of contacts you won’t be disappointed when you don’t make a sale. Your goal is to build relationships and foster trust.

Beware of social traps. Networking should be fun, but don’t confuse it with being totally social. It is easy to fall into the trap when you’re at a cocktail party, for instance, to gather with friends you already know and socialize with them. That’s not networking – that’s socializing. You should be taking the time to introduce yourself to folks you don’t know in order to increase your business network. Remember, networking is a business function. The hours you spend at networking are the same hours you could be doing some other business requirement. There’s a reason the word “work” is part of the word “networking.”

Be genuine. Since you’re networking to build relationships, you want to meet each new acquaintance with a genuine interest to learn more about that person, offer to help where you can and, perhaps, have intent to meet again to further develop that relationship. You are creating a network – people who may become clients. But more importantly, you’re there to build relationships. Be authentic in your desire to get to know them. Make it easy for people to know you, like you and trust you.

Cat got your tongue? If you find it difficult to strike up a conversation, first, introduce yourself, then use a few open ended questions to advance the dialogue. Questions like: “How did you get started in your business?” or “What do you enjoy most about your work?” or “How long have you been in the business?” will allow for an uncomplicated exchange and will lead to a friendly sharing of information about each other. But remember that loose lips really do sink ships. After you ask your question, shut up and listen!

It’s not all about the numbers. The key is quality; not quantity. Your objective isn’t to fill your pocket with new business cards. You want to gain a few quality new associations for which you can enhance your network. Follow up is important. Whether you agree to meet again over coffee or forward a referral to your new network partner – do what you say you are going to do. And, do it in a timely manner.

Location, location, location. Network in the right places. Be sure to utilize those precious networking hours to the best advantage. Chose your networking events judiciously by mixing with others who have similar customers or industries. After all, if you’re hunting for zebras, you want to go where zebras hang out!

Add some sparkle. Sometimes it helps to be memorable. Perhaps you can wear a colorful scarf or tie or a unique piece of jewelry while you are networking. It helps people make a visual reference to you and can act as a conversation starter.

Be prepared. Carry business cards and make them easily accessible. There’s nothing worse than asking for someone’s card and then having to wait for them to dig thorough their purse searching for a card. When you receive a card, read it like you have never seen a business card before - it honors your new found networker.

Business networking is making things happen for other people so that they'll make things happen for you … in that order (most people get it backwards)! Just remember to be genuinely interested in others’ businesses and provide ideas for how you can help them succeed. That’s relationship building and the key to successful networking.

Copyright 2011
Feel free to publish this article to your own site as long as you give credit: Maureen Kanwischer of Momemtum Business Consulting and link to my website: Thank you.