Networking is one of the most important actions you can take to boost your career and business - but why does it seem so hard? If you are not a natural socializer and would rather retreat into a corner than shake hands and make small talk, you may be missing out on opportunities that are simply not available through online contact alone. It is also important to realize that the first conversation with a new contact will not necessarily be enough to start a business relationship. Here are some tips to make sure your networking efforts pay off.
We’ve all been there, stuck talking to one person for the entire night. Before you know it, you’re on your way home thinking, ‘What connections did I actually make?!’ You can make better use of your networking time by looking up in advance who is going to be at the event. When deciding who you want to speak with, imagine the profile of someone who would look for your products or services. If you find yourself in a conversation that feels more like a sales pitch, politely excuse yourself and move on to the next group. After all, you’re there to build a network that is valuable to you with people who you will want to keep in touch with. If you are looking for representatives of specific industries or companies, you can always request an introduction from the event organizers.
An amazing number of people have cordial conversations at networking events, only to never get in touch again. Don't count on being memorable or wait passively for someone else to contact you. To make your time investment in the networking event worthwhile, you need to allow for sufficient follow-up time - at least as much as the event you attended. "Your follow-up system only works if you commit time to making it work. Whenever you plan to attend an event with a networking component, also plan to spend time engaging in follow-up," wrote Kit Pang in his post "You’re Not There Yet! Without Follow-up Your Networking is a Fail." The key is to take active follow-up steps - the sooner the better. After connecting on a platform such as LinkedIn, continue to check in with new contacts every now and then to keep yourself on their radar, even though you might not speak everyday. Simply sending a link to a thoughtful article with a quick message saying ‘Thought this would interest you!’ is an unobtrusive way to keep in touch.
Our world of constant communication has made it harder, not easier, for people to respond to sales opportunities. The number of "touch points" required to make a sale has actually increased, and even people who are interested in your business may be too distracted to respond right away. Targeted social media use is the easiest way to keep in touch and only takes a few minutes. Cultivating a network means staying interested in other people's accomplishments and concerns. For example, you may see on LinkedIn that a connection of yours has been promoted. You can quickly like the post and send a direct message with congratulations. The promotion may also be a good conversation starter if you run into the same person again.
Getting those business cards and connections is only the beginning. For best results, follow up with the most promising contacts within 24 hours, keep records and don't give up.