3 Tips to Help You Master the Art of Networking
By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center
Seasoned business owners and up-and-coming ones alike need to make it a point to network every now and then. You never know when you could meet someone who could change the trajectory of your career and personal life, after all.
At a meeting the other day, an advisory board member shared that her goal from networking was to learn something, to experience a-ha moments and to have meaningful takeaways. Other advisory group members shared their frustration with the selling, soliciting donations and the other less beneficial aspects of networking groups. Be strategic in how you invest your time and choose which networking groups you participate in wisely and strategically. Here are 3 tips to help you master the art of networking and get the highest ROI on your time and energy:
- Embrace the human side of networking. It’s about meaningful connections (quality over quantity matters most).
- Refine your approach. It’s about mutual investment in each other’s outcomes (answer the WIIFM question – what’s in it for me?).
- Schedule the follow-up. It’s about personal growth, discovery and greater self-awareness (no pain, no gain).
Although networking can seem self-serving, keep in mind you are building a social network founded on mutual respect, genuine interest and a clear understanding of reciprocity. In other words, everyone is there for the same reason. They are business people with a lot of the same fears, strengths, weaknesses and hopes you have. Once you see the human side of such interactions, you can start to relax and thus appear more approachable. Remember, only through personal discomfort (making yourself vulnerable) can there be meaningful personal change.
The first step is to really think about your goals. What do you hope to take from the event? Then it’s time to craft your story: who you are, what you offer and how you can add value (think Osterwalder Value Proposition). You might introduce a challenge, describe how you solved it and explain what you learned. Don’t forget to include a call to action. Do you want them to schedule a coffee date? Visit your website? Connect on LinkedIn? Be specific. Once you have a firm foundation, it’s time for practice. Recite it several times, but do not memorize it–or else risk sounding robotic. You want to deliver your pitch from a place of sincerity and confidence.
It’s all well and good to make a stellar impression, but that doesn’t pay the bills. You should focus on the follow-up and your prioritized list of networking activities. Be clear about your intentions for a coffee or lunch meeting. For example, explain how you hope to discuss how you might be a resource for the individual or their company. Once you have secured a meeting, send a quick email thanking him or her in advance for their time. Finally, further build rapport online through social media outlets like LinkedIn and Facebook. While mentorship is an overused word today, there is significant demand for mentors and trusted advisors to help people grow and develop into the very “best version of themselves”.
With a little practice and experience, you’ll be developing relationships, outreaching and expanding your network like its second nature.