“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
– Brene Brown
Being in a new city I’m having to get creative in meeting new people. So far it’s been through Facebook, bars, dating apps, and good ole fashion networking. Most people see this word and think “small, meaningless conversations in business suits, but, hey, free drinks,” but not me. I love to network. I feel so accomplished when I can leave an event and say I’ve made a new connection and even more accomplished when I follow-up on that connection.
The real challenge most people have with networking is that they simply don’t know how to do it. That’s where I come in! Here are some of my personal tips and tricks to turn networking into connectworking.
It’s Not All About the Gainz
While meeting COO’s, Presidents, and Board members can be exciting and make you feel like your networking game is on point, that might not be the connection you need. Take the time to meet people who are actually going to help you succeed and move up that ladder, not the ones who are already at the top looking down – or that don’t even know you’re climbing.
That lady who runs the library could be the best connection in the city because she’s been in business for 30 years – she knows everyone! The guy who just moved to the city to become the Vice-President of some fat cat corporate agency – not worth a damn. He’s got the power, but she’s got the knowledge.
Don’t Just Network When You’re in the Market
A lot of people I’ve met at networking events are either 1. new in their position and their boss made them go to the event or 2. they’re looking for a new job. There are the proud and few who hit every event because they are all in on the same secret: you never stop networking.
There is always a reason to make a new connection and it shouldn’t just be when you need something. The people you’re meeting at networking events could be mentors, sponsors, or even friends. In fact, some of my really good friends are folks that I met at after-hours events.
Bring a Pen, Business Cards, and Sticky Notes
This should be obvious, but I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to an event without double-checking my purse and realized I had no cards and no pen. I looked like an idiot all evening! I keep a faaaat stack of cards in my purse at all times now.
I also keep several pens because each card is printed on different paper. My gel pen won’t work on a glossy stock and a Sharpie might bleed through a thin card! When someone gives me their business card and we finish our conversation, I write notes on the back of the card. If both sides of the card have text, I slap a sticky note on that bad boy and write out my thoughts. These are brief bullet points on our conversation and any other quirky things they may have mentioned that will help me remember them.
Don’t Fake It
The bottom line to networking events is this: you’re there to learn. Learn more about different business, meet new people, and educate yourself on what the workforce around you looks like. You aren’t there to show-off all your knowledge about grocery stores because that’s what the lady who owns the grocery store is there for. You’re there to be there as a resource for others, not as an encyclopedia.
Follow-Up and Be Genuine About It
It’s always nice to get that e-mail in the next few days that says, “Hey, it was nice meeting you, let’s grab a coffee“. It’s not so nice to get an e-mail the next few days that says, “Hello (insert name here), great to meet you. My business can offer you blah blah blah“.
Being genuine with your follow-ups will create a lot more business for you in the long run, I promise. It might take 6-7 touches with that person via email, phone, coffee, or other events, but it will happen. True, good business comes from cultivating relationships that are trustworthy.
Keep Showing Up
For an anxiety-riddled introvert like myself, networking should be the last thing I want to do, but I actually look forward to it. I like throwing myself to the sharks and seeing which one bites first. I like forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone and into new territory. I plan on climbing that ladder until I’m at the top, but it won’t happen if I don’t show up.
Your first few events are going to be hard. They’ll be awkward and uncomfortable, but little by little you’ll gain new skills, meet new people, and come to impress yourself with all the new touches you’ve made across your community.
Make room in your calendar for last minute events and opportunities to grab coffee with those you connect with. Being intentional with your time will benefit you in the long run!
Networking isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. You can go to your local Chamber of Commerce, Young Professionals Groups, Small Business Groups, or other Associations and find plenty of opportunities to use these skills. If you find a tip or trick that helps you out – share it! We’re all in this weird, corporate world together, let’s use that to our advantage!