The truth is, I hate networking. Honestly. I do.
There is nothing worse than wasting time wearing a nametag sticker that won’t stay on your shirt or gets caught in your hair. If it’s a good event, maybe you’ll be offered a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, shake a few hands and leave with a pile of business cards. But are you using your time wisely when you network, or did you just hover over the cheese plate? (Guilty.)
Using your networking wisely is beyond important. It helps you refine your message, explain what you do and builds leads more quickly. So, here are a few of my tips to make the most out of it:
1. Find your crew. Some people fill their calendars with event after event. That’s great if you’re into wasting gas and chasing leads. Be diligent on how you spend your time and survey the crowd — even before you get there. Do you see your ideal clients going to this event? Is there someone you aspire to be and can learn from? Does the room have a buzz of excitement, or is it full of people who can’t wait to leave? Trust your gut, and if it was worth your time, go back and try it again.
2. Challenge yourself. We run our own businesses, but for some reason, meeting people face-to-face instantly gives us flashbacks to our first middle school dance. Making connections in person is hard, but you only have one chance to make a first impression. “What do you do?” is usually the question people lead with, but making a more personal connection will serve you better. Try starting off with “How has your day been?” You can definitely build a conversation upon that.
3. Pump the brakes. Don’t try to make a sale during the handshake. It is easy to want to take the cheese and leave. But don’t do it, especially at an event where you actually like the people. Go in looking for connections, not sales. Networking is just that: building your network, not just landing the next sale. Make a goal for yourself to leave with five (or 10 or 20, depending on the size of the event) new contacts.
Here is a bonus for you: If you cannot find the group that works for you, create one that does. As I mentioned, I hate networking, but I understand the value it brings to my business, so I host my own monthly event. Each month, the room works to solve problems that someone is facing in their business. It has quickly grown to be a staple in my community and serves as a great way for locals to do business with one another.
After you find your network groove, it is important to follow up — and quickly. Most people get lost in the follow-up, so make sure you’re not one of those people. Each conversation you have should be different. Maybe you’re reaching out to someone who wants to invite you to their networking group or has a lead for you. It is even better when you have something to offer them in return. When you put a little strategy and hustle into your networking, it can be well worth your time.