Ahh networking. It’s one of those things we all hate to do, but it is becoming exponentially important with every passing minute. The business world has always been, and continues to be extremely competitive. Landing a job is even more challenging than it ever was. Trying to freelance or start your own business can be even more discouraging when you feel as if you’re not connected. When I took a leap of faith and launched The Sampler, a business resource for creative entrepreneurs, I quickly realized networking was going to be the lifeblood of its success. There’s no need for me to say “who you know” is more important than “what you know”, but alas I said it any way. I’ve made a lot of mistakes networking and felt like it was a complete waste of time for years. A good friend recommended I read a book called The Little Black Book of Connections that helped me see the error of my ways. After I made a few tweaks, it completely changed the way I approached professional relationships and made me money.
I’ve compiled 8 things I’ve done that have transformed the way I network and been profitable to my business.
1.) Go alone– It’s only natural to want to go with co-workers or friends, so you don’t feel like a complete outcast at a networking event. The only problem with going with friends is that you may end up only talking to them, having a few drinks, and then leaving…with little to no new contacts. The first time I went to a mixer by myself, I looked like a deer in headlights in some poorly lit corner in the back of the room by myself. I left after 20 minutes and didn’t talk to one person. The downside is that it sucks a lot at first. The upside is that it forces you to talk to people and surprisingly makes you look more approachable. Even if you fail miserably at your first attempt to network alone, keep doing it! It will change your life. I promise. Almost every profitable connection I made happened when I was by myself. Even now, when I go with friends I typically make 1–2 new connections. When I’m alone, I triple the number.
2.) Use compliments as an icebreaker- Who doesn’t love a good ego boost? Walking up to a complete stranger and striking up a conversation can be rough. Finding an icebreaker is difficult, but kind words will win every time. Compliment the person’s shoes or attire and ask them where they got it. Maybe a hair cut or tattoo. Everyone loves to talk tell people their tattoo stories. Conversation typically will flow easily from there.
3.) Try not to judge– I can’t tell you how many times I see professionals at networking events sizing up who they think is “important” and completely dismissing anyone else that they can’t immediately see value in. These people almost never get ahead. Of course you should focus your time on who is most relevant to you, but be a little open minded. The help I’ve received has usually come from the most unexpected places and from people I would have never thought had a connection I needed.
4.) Don’t wait until you need something– The worst kind of networking you can do is the kind when you are desperate. You’re in between jobs and need someone to hire you, you need last minute funding to make a quarterly deadline, or any other reason that has you in a pinch is not the only time you should be shaking hands, passing out business cards, and feverishly email stalking them after the event in hopes that you can get what you need.
5.) Don’t limit yourself to “networking events”– The best networking usually doesn’t happen at a facilitated event deigned specifically to network. I’ve gotten more business from a random conversation at Bevmo or from friends of friends than an after work mixer. Don’t wait for a formal event to strike up a conversation and tell the world what you have to offer.
6.) Don’t bombard the “expert” speaker– There may have been a public figure that was making an appearance at an event and you had to get on the first thing smoking to make it there. This expert’s contact information, or five minutes of their time is all you need right? Wrong. Chances are the industry expert that was asked to speak on a panel is probably the last person that is really going to help you…at least for free. If you want one-on-one time, sign up for their workshops or buy their books. There is a good chance a lot of your peers in the room will be extremely valuable to you. Get to know them.
7.) Follow Up– The money is in the follow up. If you remember any of the other tips above, you absolutely will not succeed without doing this one. Your relationships will only grow if you continue to stay in touch. Don’t be a business card collector and let them accumulate dust on your desk. Follow up with a coffee date and continue to find ways to stay connected to that person even if there is no immediate way that they can help you.
8.) Show value– A mistake I made when first networking is that I was constantly telling people what I needed from them or what could benefit me. People don’t care about what they can do for you, they care about what you can do for them. After connecting with someone at en event, send them articles related to their industry, or make an introduction to someone else that can help them even if you can’t. Constantly make yourself valuable helping other people and it will come back to you one way or another.