|Let's tag team the intros with the crowd!|
I have had discussions with young entrepreneurs that felt networking was not worth the effort. They commented that it was impossible to meet big name people of interest to them in the bars and events. The inability to meet high-profile people in events is difficult but that is not the goal of creating a great network. Creating a great network involves meeting people, establishing relationships, maintaining relationships, growing the network, and eventually accessing to their network. Proper networking eventually leads to the meetings or introductions with those you hope to meet.
One of the best places to start is with friends and family. Your friends know people, their friends know people and so on. You may find it amazing how rapidly the contacts you make will ultimately allow you to reach individuals you believe can help you in your business. In a recent lecture, one person asked how he could meet people in Texas where he wanted to get a job. The class size was around 30. I asked how many people in the room knew someone in Texas and half the class raised their hands. That class was a great place to start! Consider starting your networking with those around you. This person had not considered that as part of the process, but got the message once he saw the potential contacts sitting near by.
There are a few tools and attitude adjustments you may wish to consider that make you more effective at networking. The list below highlights a few:
Attitude: Having a positive attitude is important. You may feel you have nothing to offer, but this is rarely true. You have talent and skills that develop over time along with your network. These may be helpful to others and are something you can offer those you meet. Some people are shy and it takes them a bit longer to meet people in events if they work the crowd alone. Try request help from a close contact that is more outgoing. This individual can make introductions in meetings and you can do the same for them, kind of like a tag-team approach. In short, develop an attitude that you will meet people and engage in discussions. Standing in the corner is not an option!
Business cards: Some believe that business cards are becoming outdated. This may be true in the future, but handing a card to someone usually results in getting their card. This allows you to collect and catalogue the skills and contact information after a meeting. You can write notes on the cards when you get home and use the cards to recall those you met followed by finding a means of staying in touch; the key is staying in touch. You should not expect help from people you met years ago that only hear from you when you want something!
Listening skills: An important part of the process is listening. You must learn about the people you meet and show interest. Your objective is to find common ground and to develop a real relationship that will last. You may talk (but do not dominate the discussion), and you must listen and remember. Cards will help remember their name; the web link on the cards may take you to a bio for the person. The discussion will reveal more info that makes the meeting personal and more friendship building in nature. The first interaction is not a sales meeting where you download everything about you and learn nothing about them.
Engagement skills: Good relationships and friends take time to build. One should never expect the initial interaction to immediately give you access to their A-class contacts. People need to know each other better and find mutual respect along with sharing before they make that A-class connection on your behalf. It sometimes takes months or years to build a trusting relationship. Once you do, it takes time to maintain it. Great contacts and friends are something worthy of the time it takes. Do not skip on this step!
Relational database: You may not need a database if you have a few contacts. One thing that occurs is that over time the number can grow to a very large number. Finding the time and a database method of keeping track of the contact info along with how you met them can be very helpful. Other info can be included to help you recall key things, add filters, or search words. Recalling the name of a person is easier for some than others. Recalling just one key factor may allow you to search the database and locate the record for the person, if you forgot the name. This may seem surprising but memory tends to fade a bit as you age; a database is helpful as this occurs!
Follow up and maintenance: This is extremely important. Finding ways to keep in touch does not always require calling people or meeting them in person. Consider sending a congratulations note when you see something positive about them; example, they got promoted or changed companies. Send holiday greeting cards or emails. Stop to talk to them in conferences or meetings. Seek ways remain in contact without being overly intrusive. Always look at how you may help them. Good networking is not just about you, it is also about them!