effective networking

Networking: Don’t Shake Hands, Build a Network

By Kristen Harris

Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”? Get invited to a “networking event” and suddenly have an unavoidable conflict? Often say “I hate networking”?

If all you can think of when you hear that word is a room full of fast-talking people handing out business cards and shaking hands, I challenge you to think differently about what networking really is.

Consider these definitions of network, as a noun:

  1. a group or a system of interconnected people or things

  2. an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance, helpful information, or the like

  3. any netlike combination of filaments, lines, veins, passages, or the like (e.g. a network or arteries; a network of sewers under the city)

Think about that visual of a net. An interwoven web, where people are connected to you and each other, building a fabric that is fluid but strong. Nets may have many strands or a few, and are made from relatively thin thread; the strength comes from how they are woven and knotted together.

Or, this definition, as a verb:

  1. to cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position

Cultivate, that’s an interesting word. A network might be like a beautiful flower garden filled with people you like and care about. You choose what gets planted, and spend time tending to it, adding water and fertilizer to help it grow.

None of these definitions talk about giving a 30-second elevator pitch over and over, handing out business cards to anyone who will take one, or trying to shake hands with 100 people in an hour. That’s what gives “networking” a bad name, and makes people cringe. Don’t do that.

The activity and purpose of networking is truly to build a network.

Whether personal or professional, you’re creating a strong, vibrant, useful network of people of who know you, care about you, and are willing to help. And that you know, care about, and are willing to help as well.

How do you do that? Try just making friends. Go to places or events where people you might want to meet are likely to be. Be friendly, talk to someone, ask questions, learn about them, and tell them about yourself. Be a nice person, and ask for their card so you can connect later. After the event, decide who should be added to your network and invite them in through LinkedIn, email, or an invitation to get coffee. Purposefully spend time with people you like and find interesting, they’re likely to feel the same way about you.

Weave your net, or plant and tend your garden. Focus on quantity over quality, and person-by-person you’ll create a network that truly supports you.

For tips on networking for introverts, check out one of my previous blog posts.

Effective Networking

By Catherine Lang-Cline

“I see you everywhere!”

That is what I hear, but honestly, that can’t be true because I can’t be everywhere. But I do make where I do go really count. Like most people, when you first start networking, it can be difficult. You search the room over and over for someone that you might know and then never leave their side for the entire event. But you know that you are there to get a deal, a big deal; that is what networking is all about, right? Not exactly.

Be confident in how you talk about yourself.

Let’s start with how you talk to people about you. What do you say to people? Many times I have heard entrepreneurs say, “I am just a start up.” “It’s just me right now.” “I have just this small business… “I am handling all the work I can.” All of these statements are awful. If you are saying this, please stop. Just those few words could not make me less interested in doing business with you. I like to work with people that are confident, people that see themselves as a thriving business. So talk bigger. “We are experts in …” “We are eagerly looking for ....” “We have # years expertise in this industry....” What? There is no “we?” Think again, because unless you are selling yourself as a consultant, you are a business made up of many roles. Yes, they may be currently all you. But a one-, five-, ten-person shop doesn’t matter; no one else needs to know that but you. Because you will find a way to get any size job done.

This is not the time for a sales pitch. 

On the other side, I hear a lot of business owners and people that work for someone else try and sell me too hard. I have just shaken your hand and you want to know if you can sell me your goods or services. The quick answer is “no” because I don’t know you, which means I do not trust you to enough to give you my money. Trying to build a relationship with me that is not all about you. Really listen and really hear what I do, what my struggles are, even what brings me to the event today.

Listen first.

Overall, talk to people and listen to people like you are their partner in business. Approach networking as a “what can I do for you?” experience vs a “who can I sell to in here?” Sales are important. But, again, no one buys from someone they don’t like or someone that immediately wants something or that they don’t believe they can complete the work effectively.

Build relationships, not prospects. 

Next up, you need to decide where to go to network. If you are new to networking, I’d advise you to go to as many events as you can just to practice your networking skills. After you are feeling more comfortable, you can get more strategic. Start going to events where your potential clients may be. Go to events that people in your industry attend. Attend events where you can get to know the game-changers first hand. Then tell everyone what you do. Note how I didn’t say sell to them. Get to know the people in your industry, learn what they do, and find out who you can help, even if it means you connect them with someone else. People remember that. I have had many, many conversations with people that buy nothing from me. But they might know someone that does need our services. I have also gone to networking events that turned into me joining a committee or the board of the hosting group. This is solid gold way of getting to know people better and getting to know who they all know in your industry. It’s about expanding your web. You could also consider sponsoring an event. Mentioning that you are a sponsor when introducing yourself tells people that you care about the people involved in an event. A little skin in the game is always a good thing.

What you will find is that the more events you go to, the more people remember you, the more people learn about what you do, how much you care about the industry you serve, and the more people will either use your services or happily recommend you.