Networking is something that we all do, and know we have to do, but are we doing it right? Is the end result what we are all after — valuable relationships?
A lot of people network, and put out a constant effort, but it isn’t effective — you need to have goals and a plan. Maybe it’s because their approach is just too overbearing — or even pushy — and it actually pushes prospects away. The last thing you want is to be labeled as that type of individual. The best networkers I know are selfless and set out to create relationships based on how they can help the other person, not how the other person can benefit them. Sure, you want to target people that will add value, but when you put their needs first, it often results in a mutually beneficial relationship thats value is ten-fold what it would have been if you approached the situation selfishly from the start.
Networking needs to be on your mind all the time — not just at events and functions. When you learn how to effectively network multiple ways, and do it correctly, you are going to see the quality of your relationships increase dramatically. To help you spark some new networking strategies and ideas, I spoke with several business professionals and entrepreneurs. Below are their best tips to help you build more valuable relationships through your networking activities.
1. Spend more time focused on one-on-one relationship building.
“My best networking tip is to spend less time attending mixers with a ton of people and instead focus on building relationships one-on-one. The key to turning networking into a lead is to be authentic and thoughtful. You need to get out from behind your computer or hiding in the corner on your phone at mixers and meet people in person.
First, research who you want to meet and work with. Look for people that have a similar style and approach as you.
Second, reach out to those people. Start with a personal email and follow up ina few days with a phone call. You are not asking them to send you clients or giving them a sales pitch — you are getting to know them and starting to learn about each other.
Finally, be sure to nurture the relationship so that it grows. Quality relationships take time to build, but can turn into excellent leads.” — Lindsey Nickel of Lovely Day Events
2. Take advantage of the apps available.
“There are several apps that can be very useful when it comes to networking. For business networking occasions, we use ScanBizCards to scan all business cards into my Android device and my co-founder’s iPhones. It’s an app that uses image and character recognition to quickly pick up important information on items like business cards and convert the numbers into importable contact information for your phone. It works really well and helps us organize our contacts on our devices.
Another app we use is Evernote, which is an organizational app that works like your own memory. We can use it to record ideas, conversations we have with people anywhere we are and save them to the app. We constantly use Evernote on our phones and our computers to keep ourselves organized in and out of the office. The app basically allows us to store and organize information flawlessly and keeps everything easily retrievable for everyone to use when needed.
Since we’re constantly networking, writing articles, blogs and press releases all the time, both these apps are perfect for storing and accessing documents and information at will on our mobile devices. For Evernote, we can use it to brainstorm and save ideas for large and small projects alike. We use ScanBizCards to record the contact information of all sorts of people we meet at business gatherings, conferences and conventions, allowing us to get back in touch with them at any time in the future.” — Ian Aronovich, CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org
3. Have referral bait prepared.
“I recommend that networkers walk into a meeting with ‘referral bait’ prepared. What I mean is, when asking for referrals they should be prepared to make a very specific request. This gives the person you are networking with a way to take action. In particular, the networker should prepare:
- A customer type
- A problem that customer is having
- How you are going to help the customer
Practice saying it out loud a few times before the meting, so it rolls off the tongue. That way, when asked, ‘What do you do?’ — you can say something like:
‘I’m a plumber and I’m looking to connect with local restaurant owners or managers. They often have drainage issues and I’ve got some unique solutions for keeping their kitchen running smoothly. Do you know any restaurant owners or managers you could introduce me to?’
This starts a really focused conversation. It also shows them that you are going to provide value to the person they are referring. If the listener does know that manager or owner, they are motivated in that moment to help connect you.
Ideally they pull out their phone and give you the contact info right then or do an intro email. They can take your card as well, although this isn’t as ideal.
If you get the contact information, you control the conversation and the follow-up. When I started using ‘referral bait’ like this, I saw my networking success quadruple.” — Anja Smith of TradeBiz Toolbox
4. Email yourself notes immediately.
“Have you ever met someone at a conference or networking event and completely forgot what you talked about? Have you ever shook someones hand, talked for 15-minutes and completely forgot their names even though you told them you would send them something next week?
My best networking tip is to ask for a business card and take a picture of it on your phone as soon as you are done talking. From there, email a photo of that business card to your own email along with a breakdown of what was discussed while it’s fresh. Be sure to include anything that you need to do when you get back to your computer that will help make the relationship continue on the intended path.” — Ross Simmonds
5. Give Bumble Bizz a shot.
“I just started using Bumble Bizz and love it. Bumble started as a dating app and now how has business networking feature.
I have made great contacts that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. I’m having coffee with the CEO of a major tech company next week to get feedback on my project, and that connection originated from this app.” — Sydney James, Founder of Stay Polished
6. Set time aside specifically for networking.
“Set your business up for success by setting aside a block of time each week to purposefully network. Networking does not always have to be in-person. You can reach out to people on Facebook, LinkedIn or through your alumni association. Your method of networking is far less important than the goal — to meet new people.
Seek out people who are in a place you want to be in your business a few years from now. Ask them to coffee — either in-person or virtually — and get to know them, both professionally and personally. Learn how they got to where they are, what helped them grow their business and anything that hindered their growth.
Don’t just stick to people in your industry. Reach out to people outside of your area of expertise.
Follow up your coffee meeting with an email or hand-written thank you card, then stay in touch by contacting them every few weeks to a month.” — Kyle Elliott, Founder of Kyle Elliott Consulting
7. Use this 2-step relationship building approach.
“My tip has 2-steps. Let me explain them below:
Step 1: Look for the influencers in your industry with whom you want to build connections.
Look for their products or services they offer.
Purchase their products, enroll in their programs or utilize their services.
No matter if you need that product or not, you’ll buy that product to actually ‘buy their time’ and trust me, they will respect it a lot.
This little investment will help you gain easier access to them.
Step 2: Provide massive value to them.
Now, take your newly built connection to the next level by providing them huge value.
Yes, instead of expecting value from them, give them value.
Talk about their products within your network, promote them, mention them on your social media channels, invite them on your podcast, etc. It will instantly power-up your connection with them.
As human beings, we love when people talk about us and we give attention to them. This is exactly what we are doing with this approach. First, we connect with them by investing a bit in their products or service, and then we provide them massive value to build a long-lasting relationship with them.” — Ankit Singla, Founder of Master Blogging
8. Look for synergies and partnership opportunities — not just new customers.
“It’s a lot easier to connect with people if what you are offering is something you’ll both benefit from equally.
Think about activities like joint content marketing where you co-produce new materials and share the pieces you produce to both companies’ audiences. Now you’re publishing on two websites, sharing to two social media followings, and reaching two different groups. The same could be said for co-hosting webinars, launching new services or referring each other to other connections when it makes sense.
By offering something of value and setting an action plan in place to follow up on, you’ve connected with someone and are setting up the chance to get to know them better. Build the relationship first if it makes sense to do so, work towards common goals and take pride in each other’s successes.
It can all start out of a quick chat at a network event, but the trick is to find the right partners that don’t offer the same service or provide that service in the same way. You don’t want to be fighting each other for the same customers but rather recommending each other for services that your company doesn’t offer. Just another key opportunity to keep an eye on when meeting people at networking events and another way to grow your own network. It doesn’t work for every business, but for those it does, partnership marketing can be very powerful.” — Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions
9. Be laser-focused on small specific encounters.
“I do a ton of networking as a partner in a successful New York family law practice. As a former introvert, it took me a while to get the hang of it, especially the awkward small talk with complete strangers in large groups. What I learned to do (over the past 20+ years) is to hone in on a smaller number of encounters.
Pay close attention, smile and engage in the discussion in a meaningful way. I also learned it is important to end the conversation in a friendly and non-abrupt way, since that is the last impression you leave with the person.
Usually, saying something like, ‘It really was so nice to meet you, and I hope we can connect again.’ — I will maintain eye contact and try to keep the vibe natural and warm as the discussion ends. Otherwise, it feels like a brush off and that makes it awkward.” — Jackie Harounian of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, PC
10. Attend non-industry events as well.
“Here in Las Vegas, we get so many random events coming through and it’s an awesome place to network because you already have an affinity with the people you talk to just based on the fact that you’re both interested in what you’re seeing.
I’ve had tons of interesting discussions with people with cool ideas at eSports tournaments, for example, and we’ve helped a lot of those folks build their apps. I attend Life Is Beautiful every year and we always end up with a couple dozen contacts out of that — a handful of which turn into paying contracts. Heck, I went to Phish’s halloween show here in Las Vegas and we actually landed a pretty amazing client just from talking with them in between sets.
The hardest part about networking is finding people who have actual problems that you can solve. They may not even realize they have a problem until you start talking with them. Serendipity has proven to be an incredible way to meet those people, and attending random events has landed us a bunch of serendipitous clients.” — Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology
11. Start a podcast.
“I’ve been successfully networking for years, but nothing has opened up doors and amazing relationships the way my podcasts have. The beauty of a podcast is that it’s all about the other person. You’re giving them a platform and an audience.
As a sales professional we all know what typical response rates look like when it comes to cold email and phone call outreach attempts. My response rate to cold podcast interview invitations and messages is north of 60 percent.
Through the process of preparing for the interview, the interview itself and then all of the follow-up once you release their episode, amazing relationships are built. From a relationship perspective the magic happens before and after the microphone gets turned on. I often have guests say some version of, ‘OK, now here’s the part that I couldn’t talk about publicly,’ after we finish an interview. It’s a true relationship accelerant.
Through my podcast I’ve established new business relationships with the Chicago Bears, Getty Images, DXC and others.” — Scott Ingram, Host of the Sales Success Stories Podcast
12. Consider strategic volunteering.
“I urge people to consider ‘strategic volunteering” — that is, finding organizations that align with your business goals and figuring out how to get involved in a way you enjoy.
I write a series of hyper-local trail guides for people of all abilities and have connected, through volunteering with various outdoor organizations, with visually impaired people, handicapped outdoor biking groups, and have led walks that are appropriate for many abilities.” — Marjorie Turner Hollman
13. Try some simple ice breakers.
“Let’s face it; most people at networking events have their guard up. However, everyone networks for the same reason — to meet people who you can potentially do business with and help at the same time. The next time you’re at a networking event, walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi. What’s new?’ Or you could say, ‘Hi. How was your day?’ By staying calm and relaxed, you put the other person at ease and can have a great conversation; one that may be continued at a later date.
A great way to break the ice is by wearing a bright-colored accessory, like a scarf or tie — or even bright-colored clothing. However, if the thought of wearing a colorful outfit scares you, you can always wear a bright pair of shoes — or women can carry a vibrant or whimsical handbag. Why? Because you will stand out from the crowd and someone will come over and talk to you — it’s an easy way to start a conversation. Once you start chatting, you can learn more about each other along with your businesses and make plans to continue the discussion another day.
If you attend networking events where appetizers and cocktails are served, you can strike up a conversation about the food. If you’re a chef or novice cook, you’ll have a great time chatting about food and if you can somehow relate it to business, let’s say increasing productivity or content marketing or photography, you may find yourself scheduling coffee dates.” — Amandah Blackwell, Founder of Savvy-Writer
14. Become an amateur reporter.
“Now, I’m not suggesting a full career change or pitching profiles of the leads you want to network with to national publications. Instead, leverage your company’s blog and set up a monthly column, written by you. Make this column a Q&A with an interesting person in your field.
- Make your list of leads you’d like to network with.
- Make a list of the same five to 10 questions to ask each of them.
- Give your column a name.
- Reach out to each lead (one per month, or more if you have the time) by saying you’d love to feature them in your column. Let them know you can send the questions ahead, but that you like to do the interview in person or over the phone to get more natural-sounding quotes.
Promise to publish the article and share on social media with links to their business.
- Record the official interview part.
- Transcribe it (or use a service like NoNotes), clean it up and get it up on your blog, as promised.
When you do get them on the phone, or out to coffee, you can get to know them naturally before conducting the interview. You now have a built-in reason to follow-up once you go live with the Q&A.” — Wendy Toth of PowerSuiting
15. Treat event breaks like networking prime-time.
“At event breaks, attendees often put their heads down and focus on checking texts and email or heading to the bathroom. But, breaks are the perfect opportunity to connect. Instead, turn to your left or right and say, ‘Hey, are you guys doing anything for lunch?’ or ‘The line at the back for coffee is long; I noticed a coffee shop around the corner — want to run over there together?’
Most people haven’t thought that far ahead so they will follow your lead, which leads to further connection. Over food and drink, the conversation will inevitably turn to business pain points which is the perfect opportunity to see how you can be of service and take the conversation deeper.” — Gayle Bu