Business Networking: How to Prepare and Build Connections

Forty-one percent of professionals want to network more frequently, but finding the free time can be a challenge.

Networking does not have to be a daunting task. Instead, it can be a fun and easy way to expand your reach and build diverse contacts.

Whether you attend industry events or engage with contacts online, these tips will help you strengthen your networking skills.

Networking Events

Networking, like everything else, requires both preparation and practice to be successful.  Before you start, make sure you have business cards, a working email address and telephone number, and a script for a brief conversation with each person. It may help to practice your script to overcome any nervousness about approaching people and engaging them in conversation.

Another strategy to make the most of networking events is to set achievable goals for yourself.  For example, you could target 10 to 12 people with whom to introduce yourself, explain your business and exchange business cards.
In order to hit your goal, you need to be active throughout the networking event and avoid talking extensively with people you already know or sitting alone checking your phone.  Walking around looking for people who are sitting alone or between conversations is a great way to begin a networking conversation.

You must avoid only talking about yourself and your company’s needs when networking. The idea is to listen to the other person and determine if you have shared business goals or personal interests that could lead to a business contact or a friend in the industry.

If you determine that the contact is not a good addition to your network, you can make a referral to a more appropriate person or business. This can be done by casually offering to share the information with others or conduct digital introductions via email and social media.

It can be hard to keep all of the names, businesses, and interests clear after a networking event. So, you might find it easier to jot the details of each conversation down for future use, using either a cell phone or a small pen and pad.

After the event, your goal is to develop relationships with your new contacts and remain top of mind. A quick follow-up email sent within three business days reminding them of your shared interests and reiterating what a great conversation you had is an easy way to stay on their radar.

Online Networking

With so many profiles and platforms online, it can feel impossible to stand out and connect. Networking in a digital landscape is different than in-person but does require the same preparation and polish.

Research the leadership of a company but choose to contact them through their assistants. This will avoid awkwardness and leaving a bad impression with busy C-suite professionals. Websites like LinkedIn offer searches based on industry, geographic area and even schools and interests that could kick-start your research.

Proactively interact with a company prior to networking with its leadership. You can do this by commenting on its website and/or social media channels and by sharing its information in your newsletter and/or digital accounts. By engaging the company beforehand, you are building positive association and giving its leadership incentive to connect with you.

Following a leader or company’s business cycle can alert you to when is the best time to reach out. Many networking experts suggest waiting until someone needs publicity and/or public support for a project to introduce yourself. Timing is very important with digital networking.

Keep your online networking messages short and to the point.  Because the information may be read quickly on a phone between meetings, it’s vital to use accessible language and write no more than three to five sentences with a clear single ask. Longer messages will likely be deleted without being read.

Create your own self-promotional space through a blog showcasing your skills or a YouTube channel where you and your colleagues demonstrate the value or your goods and services and highlight what makes your brand different. By having a designated place on the internet to exchange ideas, your company can interact with like-minded groups and provide greater context for your area of expertise.

Bear in mind that quality over quantity applies to online networking. It’s not the number of LinkedIn connections you have but the number of solid connections and leads your presence on the platform creates.

Michele Cuthbert is the CEO and creator of Baker Creative. You can contact her at:

 

(614) 836-3845

www.baker-creative.com

mbaker@baker-creative.com

 

Or connect with her on social media:

 

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