What is Networking?
The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?”
“Networking” is one of those fancy business terms that get thrown around that no one ever actually explains. It seems it’s just one of those things you are supposed to magically know when you start in business.
Networking means to make connections with other people. It’s usually business focused, though if you go at it with selfish desires, you aren’t likely to be very good at it. It’s meeting other business owners, potential customers, possible partners, and important people in the community, and building a solid relationship with them that will help you succeed later.
Of course, any good relationship is as much give as it is take. So how do you do it well?
1) Start small.
Ask for introductions.
It’s hard to meet new people. You might be outgoing and have no fears when it comes to introducing yourself to everyone in the room, but most of us aren’t that way.
The easiest way to begin networking is to ask people you know for introductions. Your parents, your mentor, your teachers, all have connections with people that could be useful to your business. It gives you a leg up if a mutual friend makes the introduction than if you both start out as total strangers.
When you go to networking events like Chamber Luncheons or business meetings, you’ll probably quickly make a buddy. It’s tempting and easy to spend the whole event with your buddy, but that defeats the purpose of networking events. Take advantage of the opportunity and ask your new buddy if they can make any introductions for you.
Don’t get so focused on how important everyone in the room is and what you need to accomplish that you forget what your face is doing. Stalking around the room with a scowl on your face, arms crossed, isn’t inviting anyone to approach you.
Scowling, serious, expressions are forbidding. People are more likely to warm up to someone who says good morning with a broad smile than they are to someone with a dour countenance.
Take a moment every now and then to consciously think about what your body language and expression is saying. Is it nice, open and inviting? Keep it up. Have you stiffened up and closed off? Loosen up and have some fun!
Say the person's name.
People like to hear their own name. So when you meet someone, use their name in conversation. Doing so makes the other person feel more comfortable, like you really know them and they know you.
Repetition also helps you memory, and you’ll be less likely to forget their name. But if you do, don’t be ashamed! Many people are bad with names, and it’s better to admit that you need a reminder than make an awkward misstep trying to hide that you’ve forgotten the name of who you’re speaking to.
2) Understand everyone in the room has equal value
Never apologize for existing or interacting with others. You have just as much of a right and a need to be there as anyone else in the room. Networking is an exercise in relationship building, not an imposition.
You’re not asking anyone in that room to do you a favor. You are offering them the chance of a new connection and helpful information, just as they are offering it to you.
Apologizing only shows off your lack of professionalism and confidence. It’s also annoying and juvenile. You don’t have to apologize for asking for help. You don’t have to apologize for wanting to learn more about other people. You’re there to help each other.
Don’t stray too far the other way, either. No one in that room is more important than you, but that also means that you’re not the most vital and interesting person, either. Making everything about you is off-putting and will only harm any relationships you might build.
Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may be “just” a clerk, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.
The only way to learn about people is to get them talking about themselves. When you first meet a person or a group, ask lots of questions. Don’t worry about sounding dumb or unknowledgeable―people love talking about themselves and what they do, but most of us only talk to people who already know about us, and so we rarely get the chance to go into detail about what we do.
As you join a new group, asking questions is a much more appealing and welcome way to join the conversation than to barge in with opinions.
3) Be prepared.
Have a pitch.
An elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what you do. It should be short, memorable, and interesting. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a brief elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds (hence the name!).
So how do you write a good elevator pitch?
- Make them care. Introduce yourself, and then immediately address a problem that you solve.
- Leave them wanting more. Elevator pitches are meant to be short, so don’t cram it with so much information that they’ll never remember anything. It’s also important to leave your trade secrets out. All you need to do is confidently broadcast that you know exactly what you’re doing.
- Have a call to action. You did this pitch for a reason, right? Finish up with what you want from them. Don’t let them leave guessing―be as clear as you can.
- Be natural. You don’t want to sound like a pre-recording. You should be excited about what you’re saying, or why should they care? But balance it out with some relaxation; you don’t want to overwhelm them. Most of all, relax! If you stumble, it’s totally fine. Take a breath, smile, and start again.
- Practice! It’ll take you several tries to get one that’s just right. Practice on your friends, your mentor, and your mirror until you’re comfortable spouting it at the drop of a hat.
Have business cards.
People can’t follow up with you if they don’t know how to get a hold of you. Almost every business meeting comes with the obligatory card swap. You don’t want to miss out!
Business cards need:
- 2 in x 3.5 in
- A central, eye-catching logo or name of yourself/your business
- Your name, job title, business name, phone number, address, email, & website
- Easily readable type face (this is not the time to use your fancy designer type faces in 7 pt font)
- One or two colors
It’s tempting to fill every inch of the business card with images and information, but don’t overwhelm people! A blank back leaves a space for people to take notes of where they met you and why they need to follow up with you.
You can get business cards from local printers, online sites like Moo.com, or you can make them yourself with a home printer and a paper cutter. Beware sites like Vista Print―you might get a good deal the first print run, but their prices can change dramatically, and they can try to slip in extra charges and offers if you don’t pay close enough attention.
All that work you did in networking doesn’t get you anywhere if you never talk to those people again! Sharing information that you promised builds your credibility and strengthens your relationship.
When you do what you’ve said you were going to do, it gives the other person the impression that you keep your word. If you don’t, you’re just another schmoozer.
4) Be passionate.
While you do need to make an effort to be a little more friendly and open during networking events, you shouldn’t be fake. Don’t be the schmoozer. The schmoozer doesn’t actually care about building relationships or helping other people―only himself.
Be the authentic, aw-shucks, humble, shy, whatever self you are. It can be endearing. Don’t try to be something you’re not. In other words, it’s okay if you’re a little awkward. Just don’t keep apologizing for it.
Fake it 'til you make it.
“Fake it ’til you make it” is a great life motto to have. There are a ton of studies out there that show that it works, but all you need to know is that if you pretend to be confident, knowledgeable, and competent for long enough, eventually it will be true.
Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Stay focused on your goals. Practice the skills you need. Validate and uplift other people. Work hard. Do what you love. Eventually, you’ll get everything you wanted and more.
Get over your fear of rejection.
I know, I know, easier said than done. But if you’re going to succeed, you’re going to have to get over it. I’m not saying don’t feel it―that’s impossible. But don’t let the fear of rejection paralyze you from every trying.
Sometimes you’ll run into people who won’t ever like you or be interested in what you’re doing. That’s just how life works. Don’t take it personally and fixate on it. Move on to the things you’ve accomplished, and the people who do want to be in your life.
Like everything worth knowing, these skills take a lot of practice. Practice them while you’re still in school, with your fellow classmates. Ask your parents or your mentor to take you along to networking opportunities, and watch how they work as well as trying it out yourself. If you would like to attend a networking event and don’t know where to start, you can reach out to the staff of the EDC, and we will bring you as our guest to Chamber meetings and other community and business events.