Whether you’re a banker, baker, sales professional or waitress, networking and engaging with all sorts of people is how we get things done. However, in the business world, it’s also considered an essential component of career success. Some people are naturally congenial, while others have to practice those skills.
What makes us better networkers than others? Let’s explore some ways that will ensure your ability to leverage your social and professional network.
1. Be authentic. Have real conversations with people - people can tell immediately if you are phony. Try to connect with people on a personal level and be genuine. Have a couple of questions on standby to make approaching people easier. Take mental notes from your conversations and write personal information down in a notebook, on your smartphone or on the back of a business card so that you can jog your memory about that person the next time you see them or contact them.
2. Know where you need to go and be there. Identify meetings and special events that attract the people you want to meet. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a perfect place to start. Do your investigative work in advance and invest your time where you’ll make the most impact.
3. Have a plan of action. As with anything worth having in life, having a plan of action is key to achieving your goals. Make a list of professionals that you want to connect with that can help you meet your business goals and identify opportunities where you can connect.
4. Be open to possibilities. Remember the adage that you must be open to the possibilities that may occur? This is particularly true in business. You’ll never know when a possibility that you had never considered will present itself. So, be open to traveling a different path than originally intended.
5. Use social media to your advantage. If you aren’t using social media for business, learn how and engage people. LinkedIn is a perfect place to showcase your business and identify individuals and groups that are crucial to your market. Join an online “Meetup” group of professionals that are in a similar business or businesses you want to target. Social is also a way to leverage yourself as a thought leader by posting articles, information and opinions related to your field.
6. Always think, “How I can solve someone else’s needs?” When you are valuable to others they in turn will want to help you. The general rule of thumb is when you ask someone for something you need to give them something. Whether it’s a lead or a contact, make sure you’re invaluable to others. By doing so, you’ll open more doors. I always ask, “How can I help you?” You also have to be ready to answer what you are looking for when you are asked that same question.
7. Follow-up is essential. Always, always, always follow-up with people. If you meet someone through networking, follow-up with them within 2-3 business days. You want to remind them that you are interested and want to pursue a professional relationship. Follow-up essentially closes the loop.
8. Give back. Volunteering with organizations with missions I’m passionate about has introduced me to many contacts I would have never made otherwise. It’s okay to cultivate those relationships to identify how you can help one another. This is a great way to give back to your community and allow people to see you in action as a problem solver.
As you can see, effective networking is strategic and is essential to being successful in business. It’s an investment in yourself and your business that can reap great rewards if executed effectively.
So, I challenge all business professionals to take a second look at their networking skills to ensure they are incorporating a range of techniques. One successful encounter can render a connection that is a game-changer for you and your business.
Dee-Dee Gee is the marketing strategist for Cox Media Virginia. She works directly with marketing and client solutions teams to develop customized marketing strategies and solutions for clients. She holds a BA in Mass Media Arts from Hampton University and serves on multiple community boards. You may contact Dee-Dee at DeeDee.Gee@CoxMedia.com.